The financial aid process begins by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA requires information from both students and parents and can be done either online or on paper. All students should file a FAFSA; if for some reason you choose not to, you should call your prospective schools to inform them. The FAFSA is a way of determining how much money you “need” from outside sources to attend a particular college. The amount of need is based on both your financial information and the cost of the college. Additionally, it serves as a “trigger” for state and school funds, as well as scholarships, and grants. In other words, it gets the ball rolling.

It’s easiest to file online. There are a variety of features on this website, but eventually you will need to click on the “Start New Form” button on the home page. Seniors and parents should set aside an hour or more to fill out this form. Most of it will need to be completed by parents. It’s very important that you check with your school to make sure that you’re aware of their FAFSA deadlines as well as other financial aid requirements. 

An overview of the process in chronological order:

  1. The FAFSA is available starting October 1 of the calendar year before your son/daughter will begin college. The FAFSA will be based on your tax information from two years prior. For example, if your son/daughter is starting college in 2025, then you will use your tax information from 2023. If you have filed your taxes, you may be able to utilize the data retrieval to transfer your financial information onto the FAFSA. This makes the FAFSA relatively quick.
  2. Pay very close attention to your school’s financial aid deadlines. Some schools require that the FAFSA is filed by January 15. In general, the earlier you file your FAFSA the more likely you are to receive aid.
  3. If you complete your FAFSA online, you will be required to login with an FSA ID (a username and password). You will create this FSA ID before beginning the FAFSA.
  4. The FAFSA gets sent to the Central Processing System (CPS) first. They determine, based on the information you provided, how much financial assistance you may be eligible for. 
  5. You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a few days if you filed your FAFSA online or within a few weeks if you filed on paper. The SAR will contain your Student Aid Index (SAI), which is a ranged number reflective of your family’s financial need. Review this for accuracy and make changes if necessary, according to the directions.
  6. The SAI is sent to the schools you listed at the end of the FAFSA and used to develop your financial aid package which can include scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study programs.
  7. Schools will send you an award letter detailing this information. Instructions from that point forward will be provided from each school. You may have time to compare each school’s financial package before you make your final decision regarding which school to attend. The deadline for your final decision is usually May 1.

Scholarship & Financial Aid Links