Understanding financial aid forms

All the forms your students will need to get money for college

Understanding financial aid forms

The financial aid process can be one of the most intimidating and confusing parts of applying to college. Any mistakes or oversights can cost students (and their parents) valuable college cash. 

There are three primary documents students will encounter: the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, and any college-specific forms schools may require. In order of importance, let’s explore each in further detail.


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

This is the form all students must fill out if they hope to get federal, state, need-based, and work-study financial aid. It is available at fafsa.ed.gov, and can be completed online (known as FAFSA on the web), downloaded as a PDF and mailed, or requested as an official form from the Department of Education. The DoE recommends that students complete the form online. 

The FAFSA asks questions about finances, income, and assets. Those completing the FAFSA will need their tax records (which they can access via the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on the FAFSA website) and, if they are completing the FAFSA on the web, will need a PIN to virtually sign the application (which they can apply for on the FAFSA website). The FAFSA is the single most important form students must complete when applying for financial aid; it is recommended that they complete and submit it as soon after the most recent year’s taxes have been filed. 


The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE

This form, available from the College Board (the same folks who administer the SAT), is a form used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs to determine student eligibility for nonfederal financial aid. The PROFILE is completed online, and requires that those completing it register on the College Board website. Like the FAFSA, it asks questions about a family’s finances, income, and assets. Unlike the FAFSA, submitting the PROFILE is not free; payment is required in order for the form to be processed.


College-specific forms

In addition to the FAFSA and PROFILE, some schools may also require that students complete additional forms or essays. These are typically required for schools to determine a student’s eligibility for scholarships with specific requirements (such as race, ethnicity, or academic field of interest). It is recommended that students complete all of these forms and essays, even if they are not required; failing to do so could result in failure to obtain monies for which they would otherwise qualify.

Understanding the forms students need to complete as part of the financial aid application process is the first step in ensuring that they will get as much money as they can to pay for their education. Take the time to become familiar with them, and you can help your students potentially get thousands of additional dollars to help finance their education! 

Anne Chaconas is a freelance writer and an admissions consultant for PowerScore Test Preparation (powerscore.com). You can find her online at annechaconas.com. 

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