Planning for College and Beyond ...  

Paying for college: a brief overview of the financial aid process

Below is a brief overview of the financial aid process, which ideally should start in October of the student's senior year.

  • Apply for your FAFSA pin number in October and start gathering financial information: Virtually all colleges require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to apply for financial aid. Visit FAFSA on the web at and sign up for your personal pin number if you're going to submit the form on-line. This is also a good time to print out the worksheets for filling out the FAFSA so you'll know what's involved and can begin gathering the financial records. (The actual form cannot be submitted until after Jan. 1st but most colleges want it by February 1 so preparing now will reduce stress later.)
  • Find out if the college(s) you are applying to require the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. Some colleges (mostly private schools) require this special form which is essentially a supplement to the FAFSA. The College Board website has a list of the schools that require it, but it's always better to check with the college directly.
  • Call the financial aid offices at the schools you are applying to and find out if they require any other special financial forms of their own. This is most common at private colleges. If they require specialized forms, ask them to mail them to you now.
  • Find out the deadlines for all financial aid forms now, and gear up for January.
  • January is Financial Aid month! Get your income tax returns prepared early: Colleges may request them and you will need tax information to complete the FAFSA. Note: since some schools require the FAFSA by February 1, and many employers don't give out W-2 forms until late in January, you can opt to estimate your taxes using the prior year's tax returns and this year's pay stubs. (See the FAFSA Web site for more details.)
  • Complete the FAFSA form: Submit the form as soon as possible after January 1. Some schools require it as early as February 1 but be sure to submit it no later than March 1. Your chances of receiving financial aid improve if you submit your forms early. Colleges are handing out aid as the applications come in and there IS a limit to how much they have to give. Get your application in late and all their available money may, quite simply, be gone.
  • Remember to keep copies of all financial aid forms you submit.
  • Watch for your Student Aid Report (SAR): This is one-page summary of the FAFSA information you submitted. It is sent to you to confirm the accuracy of all data one last time before it is forwarded to your colleges. Occasionally the SAR will note that information is missing or incomplete. In all cases, follow directions on the SAR and return it as quickly as possible. If you have not received your Student Aid Report within five weeks after sending in your FAFSA, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at
    (301) 722-9200. The report arrives by mail or by email if you filed the FAFSA electronically.
  • Apply for outside funding and scholarships: Keep checking for scholarship applications in the guidance office every week and explore other sources. For example, parents might belong to organizations or work in businesses that award scholarships. Ask around. Visit, the Internet's largest free scholarship search.

Financial Aid on the Web

New York State Higher Education Services Corporation

HESC guarantees federal student and parent loans, offers loan management services, and provides guidance for college planning. In New York state, HESC also administers the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and other state specific grants and scholarships.


This website provides information on getting into college, the financial aid process, explains different kinds of educational loans, recommends timelines for juniors and seniors and provides information and insights on a host of other topics. There is also a free newsletter students can sign up to receive.


The New York Daily News called FinAid the hottest site on the Internet for financial aid tips.

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

All colleges require students to submit a FAFSA form from the federal government to be considered for any financial aid. (The form should be submitted between January 1 and Feb. 15 of a student's senior year.) The federal government's FAFSA website provides worksheets and help with filling out this extremely important form. If you're going to submit your application online, there's also a link to sign up for your personal pin number (direct link at Another federal government website worth exploring is:

Federal Student Aid Web Site

The home page for the Federal Student Aid programs the largest source of student aid in the country. The site promises help for every stage of the financial aid process from applying, to funding to repaying your loans. When you assign a hyperlink, it will automatically add the correct style, as well.