Alice Murphey: Financial Aid Expert

Applying for financial aid

March 29, 2011

Applying for financial aid

If you are a high school senior who plans to attend college this coming fall you are facing the prospect of filing for financial aid.

If you haven’t done it yet, it’s time to get going.  Some colleges have very early deadlines for filing the financial aid paperwork and you need to make sure that your application is there before the due date.

No matter where you hope to go to school next fall, it’s not too late to seek financial aid. Maybe you’re waiting for your family to complete their 2010 tax returns. Or you’re sure that the application is so difficult that you can’t get started.  Or you are afraid that you will make a mistake.

Lots of prospective college students feel the same way.  There is always something else (like homework) that needs to get done and that financial aid application can be put off for another day.  But now is the time to get it done in order to give you the best chance to grab some of that free money that is available.

All you have to do is sit down at your computer, go to and start typing.

The FAFSA is the primary application for financial aid. You should fill it out on the web at since it is easier and you get faster processing than filling out a paper application.  There are also online instructions and FAFSA on the Web identifies potential errors right away.   Apply online and in about three days your information will be sent to the colleges you’ve listed.   There is also another form that you college may require called the College Scholarship Service Profile form.  Check with the colleges you are interested in to see if that additional form is required.

The first step in completing the FAFSA is to get a PIN so that you can electronically sign your application online.  Go to the website and select APPLY NOW.  Follow the directions and get your federal PIN.  If you are a dependent student, one of your parents should also get a PIN so that they can also sign your application.  Note that you can’t both use the same PIN.  Once you have your PIN you should save it to somewhere you will remember.  You will be able to use this same PIN to apply for aid every year you attend college.

Then go to the FAFSA Web site and start the filing process.  Your answers are automatically saved at the end of every page so you can walk away and come back to pick up where you left off.  You can estimate your figures based on last year’s information and then correct it later.  Promise yourself you’ll at least start completing the FAFSA this week.

Filing soon is imperative because without a FAFSA application, you won’t be considered for financial aid. Also, there’s potentially a big payoff, ranging from grant and scholarship money to federally subsidized or guaranteed student loans. And the earlier you file the better chance that you will be eligible for some of these funds.

Your eligibility is based on data you submit on the FAFSA, which is used to calculate your expected family contribution toward college.  That contribution, as well as the total cost of attending college, determines the amount of aid you can expect to receive.

If your expected family contribution is zero, you could get the maximum $5,550 federal Pell grant.  Colleges also award aid based on need; the earlier you file a FAFSA, the better your chances, since colleges aren’t dipping into a bottomless pool of money.

You can apply to the New York State Tuition Assistance Program through a link on the FAFSA Web site. This program can cover up to full tuition at CUNY and SUNY, or $5,000 at private colleges.

Colleges are already reviewing financial aid applications, which started coming in Jan. 1. By late March and early April, they begin to send award notices to accepted students, which helps you decide where you’ll be going when September comes along.

So it is time to be proactive and get your FAFSA done.  It can’t hurt and certainly could help you find some money to pay for college.