Who should file the FAFSA and/or CSS/PROFILE :
- Any US citizen or permanent resident wanting to receive need-based aid who believes they might qualify
- Anyone who thinks they may require financial aid at any point during their child’s undergraduate career. Many colleges will not consider a financial aid application from a matriculated student, admitted as a full-pay freshman, if they did not originally submit the FAFSA when they applied for admission as a high school senior.
- Anyone who expects to have two or more children in college at the same time, which significantly lowers the threshold for need-based eligibility
- Anyone applying for merit aid at (a handful of) institutions that require either the FAFSA or PROFILE for consideration for such awards
Completing the FAFSA
In order to understand the financial aid aspect of college admission, parents who plan to apply for financial aid should visit the official website to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”). It is highly recommended that parents complete the FAFSA online. There are instructions available on the website to help parents answer the needed questions. The application goes live on October 1st and parents should complete the application and submit the application as soon as possible after that October 1st date. This application is meant to determine eligibility for federal financial aid.
In order to complete the CSS Profile, visit the official website.
This financial aid application is required by approximately 400 colleges and universities, nearly all private entities, that use the information to determine eligibility for their own institutional financial aid. The website lists which colleges and universities that require the Profile. It is a fee-based service. You may complete the CSS Profile as early as October 1st.
To qualify for California state financial aid, you can submit the FAFSA or the CA Dream Act Application. The application can be found on this website. The Cal Grants application also requires the submission of a certified copy of the student’s GPA by the March 2nd deadline.
Make sure you apply for federal student aid as early as you can. Each school sets its own deadlines for campus-based funds. You can find a school’s deadline on its website or by asking someone in its financial aid office.
What kinds of financial aid are awarded?
Financial aid may be based on financial need or merit, or a combination of the two.
Need-Based Financial Aid
Most federal, state, and college financial aid is based on a student’s financial need. Recipients may receive financial aid to cover some or all of their college costs beyond what they can afford. In addition, need-based aid:
- Requires the student to file the FAFSA and possibly other financial aid applications
- Is determined by a standardized formula that colleges use to calculate how much each family can afford to contribute
- Requires the student to fill out an application each year
- May be awarded in the form of grants, work-study, and/or loans
Grants are gift aid, and generally do not have to be repaid. The Federal Work-Study Program provides the student a part-time job at or near the school. The job can be on campus, off campus or community service. It is up to the student to find the job placement once they are on campus.
There are four types of Direct Loans:
- Direct Subsidized Loans (for undergraduate students)
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans (for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students)
- Direct PLUS Loans (for parents of dependent undergraduates; and for graduate or professional students)
- Direct Consolidation Loans (for student or parent borrowers to combine federal education loan debts)
Merit-Based Financial Aid
Merit-based financial aid is generally awarded by a college in recognition of a student’s achievement — academic, athletic, artistic, or extracurricular — in the form of a scholarship. Colleges award merit-based financial aid based on a set of factors they determine is important to them. It is a discretionary function and typically they select their most competitive applicants as recipients of merit aid. When awarding merit-based financial aid, each university:
- Establishes its own qualifications, sets the award amounts, and provides its own application process. At some universities just submitting the admissions application is enough for students to be considered for scholarships. At some universities, it involves a separate application process and it may have requirements like essays and letters of recommendation. Students should visit each university’s website to see how they administer merit aid. Pay attention to the deadlines that universities set for students to be considered for merit scholarships.
- The university may determine that a merit scholarship is non-renewable and if it is renewable, the terms of the renewal will be defined in the award letter.
- The university typically compares the applications of students to determine who the recipients of the scholarships will be as well as the amount that is awarded to each student.
- Some universities require students to participate in an on-campus interview before they determine who will receive the awards.
For a full presentation about the financial aid process, please review this video.