How do I apply for financial aid?
  • You should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) New Window - icon as soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year in high school. By completing this application you have applied for funds awarded by most federal and state agencies.

  • There is now an IRS data transfer module that will save you time on filing your FAFSA. You must have completed your taxes and filed them online with the IRS. Go to New Window - icon for more information.

  • Applications are processed and results are sent to the colleges you listed on the FAFSA.

  • Your Student Aid Report (SAR) will be provided to you to confirm data (two to three weeks after submitting your application). If you file your FAFSA electronically, processing can take seven days.

  • Your school will then provide you with an award letter outlining types of aid for which you are eligible. Further instructions will be included in the letter.

  • If the financial aid office has determined that you will need a loan, contact the financial aid administrator regarding the procedures to apply for federal loans.

    NOTE: Colleges now participate only in the Federal Direct Loan Program New Window - icon, in which there is no choice of lender. Follow the college's instructions to get the loan.

  • Apply for other scholarships and grants for which you may be eligible outside of the college or university. For more information, talk with your high school counselor.

When her daughter was applying to colleges, Mary Crippen says that the financial aid offices provided excellent materials and online instructions about the aid process.

"I was able to complete the entire process online using the instructions without assistance from the financial aid office or paid outside consultants," Crippen says. "It did take some time to read through the instructions and go through the steps, though. The first hurdle was to finalize our taxes by the first week in February, because that information was necessary to complete the FAFSA and financial aid forms, so I remember that week being pretty stressful. Once you have your tax information, though, [it's] pretty straightforward."

Crippen recommends keeping the family financial records organized for easy tax preparation. She also says it's important to keep track of deadlines for certain parts of the process.

While having taxes completed makes the process easier, it is important to note that families can estimate their income if it isn't possible to file tax returns prior to a FAFSA deadline. The FAFSA can be updated with information from a completed tax return at a later date.