There are five essential steps in the financial aid process. The following is a detailed discussion on each step.

Step 1: Applying for Admission

You should always apply for admission to six to eight colleges. When a student applies to this many colleges, it increases the chance of a successful appeal and increased financial aid for a college student. Students must apply and be accepted at a college in order to receive a financial aid award.

Many colleges award scholarships to students who submit their admission application forms at an early date (e.g., September or October). Therefore, to get these “early bird” scholarships, the student should apply early.

At several colleges, the admission fee may be waived for financial hardship cases. Should the student decide not to attend a particular college that has been paid a room deposit, a refund of the room deposit may be requested; the college must receive this request by May 1st. There are several ways in which a student can be informed early of the admission and financial aid status. Colleges like these policies because it allows them to meet their enrollment needs at an early date. Parents and students like these policies as it gives them peace of mind when they know which college the student will be attending.

Types of Early Admission Policies

Following are several types of early admission policies:

  • Early Action: The student can apply to a college by an early deadline (set by a particular college) to guarantee admission without obligating the student to attend that college. The student then usually files for financial aid at the college under the same deadlines as a regular student applicant.
  • Early Decision: The student can apply to a college by an early deadline to guarantee admission, but is obligated to attend that college under a binding contract. Early decision applicants file for financial aid early and are offered a financial aid award at an early date. Once the student is committed to the college, the student may lose some of the financial aid appeal options. Some colleges make “early decision” binding only if the financial aid offer is mutually agreeable.
  • Early Notification: The college notifies the student of the admission status as the admission office makes its admission decision. The student applies for financial aid in the same manner as would a regular financial aid applicant. By accepting the college’s offer of admission, the student may be limiting the appeal options. The student may not have received financial aid award letters from the other colleges that the student is interested in attending and may also be limiting the ability to appeal the financial aid awards.
  • Early Read: The college computes the student’s EFC early and estimates the student’s financial aid award. Since this computation usually takes place early in the fall of the year, the student must submit estimated financial information to the college.

The student should avoid allowing the college to perform an early read on the financial information. Since the student’s financial advisor could perform the EFC computation, it is of no benefit to the student to allow the college to have a preview of the financial information. If the student and the parents implement some financial strategies to lower the EFC, the college may question these strategies if they have already seen the family’s financial information.

Observation: If a student has been put on a college’s admission “waitlist,” the student’s chances of receiving a good financial aid award offer are reduced. Usually, colleges offer better financial aid awards to the students who were the colleges “first choice” and were admitted without being placed on the admission “waitlist.” They give the “first choice” students a better offer to entice them to enroll at their college. Needless to say, this can be a very dangerous game of “financial aid roulette.” Therefore, it is imperative that the student has a few backup colleges in which the student is interested in attending. It may cost a few more dollars in application fees to these colleges, but it can be very costly not to have a backup plan in case the applicant is not admitted or the financial aid award offer is insufficient.

At some private colleges, a student who applies for financial aid has a lesser chance of being admitted. These colleges admit a student who does not apply for financial aid before they admit a student who applies for financial aid. Many applicants would love to know which colleges use this type of admission policy. Unfortunately, most colleges guard their admission policies as closely as they guard their financial aid policies.

Step 2: Financial Aid Application Forms

You should always file the appropriate financial aid applications. The two basic types of financial applications are

  1. the FAFSA; and,
  2. the PROFILE forms.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is used to calculate the Federal Methodology EFC and is used by all accredited colleges. The filing deadline for this form is June 30, 2019, for the 2018-2019 college year for federal financial aid funds. Colleges may establish their own deadline for filing this form for their financial aid funds. The student may miss out on all financial aid (except the Pell grant and Stafford loan) if the student misses the college’s deadline! The FAFSA cannot be filed before October 1, 2017. The student and at least one parent must sign the FAFSA.

Observation: The FAFSA may be processed faster if form is filed online with a student and parent PIN. The FAFSA is filed online at

FAFSA Filing Methods

There are three ways to file a FAFSA:

  1. by manually completing the paper form and mailing it to the FAFSA processor
  2. by downloading a PDF FAFSA, completing it an mailing it to the FAFSA processor; and,
  3. by filing on the Internet by contacting:

Student Eligibility

To receive aid from the federal student aid programs, the student must meet the following 10 standards:

1. Show Financial Need

The student must have financial need, except for some loan programs.

2. Have a High School Diploma

The student must have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate, pass a test approved by the U.S. Department of Education, or meet other standards the state establishes that are approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

3. Be Enrolled in College

The student must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student (one who is enrolled in an institution to obtain a degree or certificate) working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program (a course of study that leads to a degree or certificate and meets the U.S. Department of Education’s requirements for an eligible program).

To get federal financial aid, the student must be enrolled in an eligible institution, with two exceptions:

  1. If a school indicated that the student must take certain coursework to qualify for admission into one of its eligible programs, the student can get a Direct Loan or a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) (or the student’s parents can get a PLUS Loan) for up to 12 consecutive months while the student is completing that coursework. The student must be enrolled at least half-time and must meet the usual student aid eligibility requirements.
  2. If the student is enrolled at least half-time in a program to obtain a professional credential or certification required by a state for employment as an elementary or secondary school teacher, the student can get a Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Work-study, a Direct or FFEL Stafford Loan, (or the parents can get a PLUS Loan) while the student is enrolled in that program. Students may not receive aid for correspondence or telecommunication courses unless they are part of an associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree program.

4. Be a U.S. Citizen or Eligible Non-citizen

The student must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen to receive federal student aid. Citizen/Eligible Non-citizen is defined as:

U.S. citizen

  • Includes a citizen of the 50 states,
  • the District of Columbia,
  • Puerto Rico,
  • The Virgin Islands,
  • Guam, and
  • The Northern Mariana Islands.

U.S. national

  • Non-citizen nationals (i.e., natives of American Samoa or Swain’s Island);
  • Certain residents of the Pacific Islands,
  • Permanent residents of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Palau).

U.S. permanent resident

  • has an I-151, I-551, or I-551c (Alien Registration Receipt Card)

If the student is not in one of these categories, the student must have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) showing one of the following designations in order to be eligible:

  • “Refugee”
  • “Asylum Granted”
  • “Indefinite Parole” and/or “Humanitarian Parole”
  • “Cuban-Haitian Entrant, Status Pending”
  • “Conditional Entrant (valid only if issued before April 1, 1980)”
  • “Family Unity Program deportation relief granted”
  • “Illegal aliens and certain agricultural workers with temporary resident status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

If the student has only a Notice of Approval to Apply for Permanent Residence (I-171 or I-646), the student is not eligible for federal student aid.

If the student is in the United States on an F1 or F2 student visa only, or on a J1 or J2 exchange visitor visa only, the student cannot get federal student aid. Also, persons with G series visas (pertaining to international organizations) are not eligible for federal student aid.

Note: Citizens and eligible noncitizens may also receive loans from the FFEL and Direct Loan programs at participating foreign schools. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau are eligible only for Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), or Federal Work-Study.

5. Have a Valid Social Security Number

The student must have a valid Social Security Number.

6. Make Satisfactory Academic Progress

To be eligible to receive federal student aid, the student must maintain satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or certificate. The student must meet the school’s written standard of satisfactory progress. If the student is enrolled in a program that is longer than two years, the following definition of satisfactory progress also applies:

The student must have a C average by the end of the second academic year of study or have an academic standing consistent with the school’s graduation requirements. The student must continue to maintain satisfactory academic progress for the rest of the course of study.

7. Certify the Aid Will Be Used for Educational Purposes

The student must sign a statement on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) certifying that the student will use federal student aid only for educational purposes.

8. Not Be in Default of a Federal Loan

The student must sign a statement on the FAFSA certifying that the student is not in default on a Federal loan and that the student does not owe money back on a Federal student grant. Default is failure to repay a loan according to the terms agreed to when the student signed a promissory note. Default also may result from failure to submit requests for deferment or cancellation on time. The consequences of default are severe on a federal student loan.

9. Be Registered With Selective Service

If required by law, the student must register, or arrange to register, with the Selective Service to receive federal student aid. The requirement to register applies to males who are at least 18 years of age, are citizens or eligible non-citizens, and are not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, or Palau are exempt from registering.)

Male students 18 through 25 years of age, who have not yet registered with Selective Service can give Selective Service permission to register them by checking a box on the FAFSA. They can also register through the Internet at:

10. Not be Convicted of Possessing or Selling Illegal Drugs

The student cannot leave this question blank on the FASFA. When filling out this question, the student should not include any convictions that may have happened when they were juvenile or convictions that may have been removed from their record. The student should answer “no” if they have never been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs or if they have completed an acceptable drug rehabilitation program since their last conviction. An acceptable drug rehabilitation program includes at least two (2) unannounced drug tests, and it must be qualified to receive funds from the government or from a federally- or state-licensed insurance company, or be administered or recognized by a government agency or court, or a federally- or state-licensed hospital, health clinic, or medical doctor. Students who have been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs will receive worksheets with their Student Aid Report to determine whether they are still eligible for federal student aid. A student who is ineligible for federal student aid because of a drug conviction may still be eligible for state or institutional aid.


The Financial Aid Profile (PROFILE) form is used by some private colleges to calculate the Institutional Methodology EFC. The filing deadline for this form is December 2017, but may be filed at any time before this date, for the 2018-2019 college year. As with the FAFSA, certain colleges have their own deadlines for filing this form. The PROFILE may require the applicant to answer questions in addition to the basic application questions. These questions are known as “Section Q Questions” and unfortunately, there are no instructions on how to accurately answer these questions.

The individual college determines what questions will be asked of applicants to their particular college. There are two supplemental forms to the PROFILE that a specific college may require:

1. Business/Farm Supplement
2. Non-Custodial Parent Supplement

Application Forms Must be Filed in Order to Appeal

A family should file the FAFSA and PROFILE forms even though they do not initially qualify for financial aid. An appeal cannot be made to the Financial Aid Officer (FAO) for increased financial aid unless these forms have been filed. Also, unless the application forms have been filed in prior college years, some colleges (usually high-priced private colleges) will not consider the student for future financial aid.

College Financial Aid Deadlines

Many colleges’ financial aid deadlines are February 15th or before. Few families have their tax forms completed by this time. Because much financial aid is based on a first-come basis, the chances to receive financial aid increase by estimating the financial information on the application forms and later reporting the actual figures as corrections to the Student Aid Report.

Other Financial Aid Application Forms

Institutional application forms are required at some colleges. These forms are required in addition to the FAFSA and possibly the PROFILE. These applications may require additional information that is not requested on the FAFSA or PROFILE (such as the value of retirement accounts).

State application forms are required to be filed in some states. These forms are used to determine the student’s eligibility for state financial aid programs.

  • Student Aid Report
  • Indicates the student’s EFC (upper right corner)
  • Correct estimated or incorrect information
  • Send copy to colleges
  • Request an award letter

Step 3: Student Aid Report

In four to six weeks (7-10 days when electronically filed) after filing the FAFSA form, a student should receive the Student Aid Report (SAR) form. This SAR form indicates the student’s EFC on the upper right corner of the first page. Errors or estimated tax information must be immediately corrected or updated on this form and the form re-filed. If an amended tax return is filed later in the year, the financial aid office should be contacted. There are three reasons that the student must update the information on the original FAFSA:

  1. The student must update the dependency status if it changes at any time during the award year. The one major exception is, should the dependency status change as the result of a change in the applicant’s marital status, the student may not update the dependency status. For example, a dependent student who marries after the financial aid application is filed cannot be considered an independent student because of the marriage that year.
  2. If a student has been selected for verification and the household size has changed at any time during the college year, the student must update the FAFSA household size at the time of verification. If the change is a result of a change in the applicant’s marital status, the information may not be updated.
  3. If a student has been selected for verification and the number of household members enrolled in postsecondary education has changed at any time during the college year, then the FAFSA must be updated as of the time of verification. If the change is a result of a change in marital status, the information may not be updated.

When the student updates the SAR information for any of the previous three reasons, the other data on the SAR may not be updated.

Note: If a student is not selected for verification, household size and number in college cannot be updated.

Note: The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Data Acknowledgement Report is similar to the SAR. It gives parents and students a chance to verify their data submitted on the Profile, but does not allow for corrections. The CSS Data Acknowledgement Report does not provide the EFC for the Institutional Methodology; it is only used for data confirmation.

Step 4: Verification of Information

Verification of the applicant’s information is required of at least 30% of the financial aid applications filed. If a student is picked for verification, there will be an asterisk accompanying the EFC amount on the SAR. Verification can vary from merely providing a tax return to sending in detailed family financial information (at some private colleges).

Observation: If an applicant uses estimated numbers on the FAFSA, the chances of being verified increases. However, since several types of financial aid are limited and are disbursed on a first-come, first-serve basis (especially at private colleges), the applicant should use estimated numbers if it increases the chances of a better financial aid award.

Also, inconsistency of the data submitted on the application may lead to verification. What types of inconsistencies trigger verification? A dependent student who claims a one-parent family but shows income for both mother and father. A dependent student who claims a two-parent family but lists the household size as two. The student or family lists investments, but lists no interest or dividends. Conversely, the student or family lists interest or dividend income and no investment assets. There should be a correlation of the income listed on the application and the assets. If real estate is listed, but its value falls below the Commercial or Residential index multiplier, verification is almost a certainty.

Step 5: Award Letters

The Award Letter states the amount of the financial aid and the types of financial aid offered to the student. A student may accept, deny, or appeal any part of an award letter.

Do not let a college pressure the student into accepting an award letter before the student has time to compare all aid award letters. It is best to try to get an extension of time to accept the award letter. The extension of time allows the student more time to compare and/or appeal the award letters. Most colleges allow the student until May 1st to respond to the award letter. Should a particular college refuse to grant an extension of time, the student can accept the award letter; this acceptance safeguards the aid award letter. Nevertheless, the student’s acceptance of the award letter does not commit the student to attend that college. However, acceptance of the award letter will probably reduce the chances of successfully appealing the award letter.

Example: A student had applied and been admitted to three colleges. He received a financial aid award offer from College X on February 15th. The award contained an $8,000 per year scholarship for the four years of college. The award offer had an acceptance deadline of March 1st. The student had not yet received his award offers from College Y or College Z. The student contacted College X and requested an extension of time to accept its award letter. However, the college denied his request and restated that the deadline for accepting its award offer and scholarship was March 1st. The student then contacted Colleges Y and Z and asked them to send their award offers to him before March 1st so that he could compare all three colleges’ award letters. Colleges Y and Z informed the student that they would be unable to send him their award letters until after March 1st. At this point, the student was faced with a high-pressure decision. Should he accept College X’s award offer by March 1st, without knowing what College Y or College Z would offer him, or should he wait until he received their award offers and miss the deadline (and lose the scholarship) for accepting College X’s offer? The student signed and accepted College X’s award offer. By accepting the offer, he safeguarded the award offer and scholarship. Nonetheless, the student was not obligated to actually attend College X. The student then had time to receive the award offers from College Y and College Z, and to review and compare the award offers from all three colleges.

An example of an award letter is shown below. Note the cost of attendance, expected family contribution, and the financial need. Also note that even though the student had financial need of $10,234, the college only offered $8,040 in financial aid.

Date: 4/10/17

Financial Aid Office Return by: 5/01/17

Tuition & Fees 13,940
Room & Board 10,310
Books 890
Personal Expenses 700
Transportation 350


Expected Family Contribution 15,956



XYZ College Grant Freshman 240
Presidential Scholarship 3,800
Girls/Boys State Scholarship 500
Fed. Subsidized Stafford Loan 3,500


Please indicate acceptance of the above financial aid package:
__________I ACCEPT the entire financial aid package as offered.
__________I DECLINE the following: