Are you applying for financial aid?

March 5, 2004

by Howard and Matthew Greene

Are you a family with a senior in high school, or current college student, who needs or may need financial aid to help pay for college? Then you should be applying for financial aid right now for next fall, if you haven't done so already. We are adamant in our belief that those who might need financial aid should apply for it. This will not hurt your chances for college admission, and the worst that can happen is a college will say you do not qualify for need-based financial aid. The most important form you need to fill out to qualify for need-based aid is the federal government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov). There is almost $105 billion of financial aid available to help you pay for college, and the bulk of it comes from the federal government in the form of grants and loans. If you are already receiving financial aid, you will need to file a FAFSA Renewal form every year you are requesting aid. The FAFSA form may be filed as early as January 1 of the year for which you are requesting aid, and should be filed as close to that date as possible for students planning to start classes in September. The FAFSA requires your tax information, for students and parents of dependent students, so be sure to have that available when you visit the FAFSA Web site. The quickest way to file the FAFSA is on-line. The second form you should consider is the CSS/PROFILE from the College Board (www.collegeboard.com), which many selective private colleges and universities, independent scholarship programs, and high school foundations require to receive their financial aid funds. The PROFILE should also be filed as close to January 1 as possible. Colleges and universities may have their own financial aid forms, as well, so be sure to check their Web sites for information on applying for financial aid. Many institutions offer significant grants and scholarships (you do not need to repay either form of assistance) funded by their own endowments and tuition revenue. The fact is, the large majority of students in American do not pay full price for their college education. Some estimate that only twenty percent do so. Additionally, the great majority of students receive some form of financial aid, and attend colleges that cost less than $8,000 per year. So, despite the headlines about excessive college costs and tuition spikes, you should not avoid applying to colleges in which you are interested due to their sticker prices. Recognize that many of the most expensive schools offer the most financial aid, and that merit-based awards, aid given not based on financial need, represent an increasing proportion of financial aid. Some of those awards are made to students without students applying for them, while others require additional applications or essays. State merit programs, which reward students with good grades and/or standardized test scores, also provide a great deal of financial assistance for students, so visit your state department of education's Web site to learn more about your state's aid programs. The first step in qualifying for financial aid is to apply for it, however, so if you think you might need help paying for college this fall, make sure to get your tax and asset information together and file the FAFSA and PROFILE forms as soon as possible.