Notes for Families who are Applying for Financial Aid

Carolyn StewartBy Carolyn Stewart|12/14/2013|4 Minutes

FAFSA stands for “Free Application for Federal Student Aid.”  Completing the FAFSA online is the first step that students and families must take toward receiving financial aid for college, career school, or graduate school. There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. Therefore, don’t make assumptions about the support that you and your family may be eligible for, nor about what you and your family will be expected to contribute—fill out the application and find out:

Need-based aid is normally calculated based on “cost of attendance” (tuition/fees, room and board, transportation, etc.) minus “expected family contribution” (EFC) determined by your responses to the FAFSA.  Many public and private colleges, and even private scholarships funders, also use FAFSA information to award the merit aid they have available.  Don’t miss out on these opportunities by not completing the FAFSA!

You should never have to pay to fill out the FAFSA form, so beware of any websites that want to charge you.  The FAFSA is available online every year starting January 1 at  Check with each of the colleges to which you are applying to determine if additional financial aid applications need to be completed, such as the CSS Profile or a college-specific financial aid supplement.  You can select up to 10 schools to receive your FAFSA information, again for free.

The U.S. Department of Education has developed some very helpful websites and tools to help you navigate the financial aid process:

  • Federal Student Aid: – you can learn about how to prepare for college; what types of financial aid are available from the government and other sources; who gets aid; how to apply for aid and how aid is calculated; and how to manage any student loans you may receive as part of a financial aid package.
  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: — this site has many great features including the College Scorecard, Net Price Calculator Center and College Navigator.  With the College Scorecard, you can find out more about a college’s affordability and value, including cost, graduation rate, loan default rate and median borrowing.

Check out You Tube — — for short videos about the whole financial aid application process, including preparing for college, types of aid, who gets aid, the FAFSA, and more.

You can also “like” Federal Student Aid on Facebook, for regular updates, information and tips.

Applying for financial aid can be stressful for families.  Use these free government tools to help you navigate the system and answer any questions you have.  If the websites don’t provide the information you need, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center by phone, email or live chat: