How to Get Financial Aid in College

A step-by-step guide to getting money for school.


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    Fill out the FAFSA ( online as early in the year as possible. The general rule is to do it when you do your taxes.
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    When you get your SAR (student aid report) back from the FAFSA processing center, call the school that you will be attending to find out your next step.
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    Generally, what happens is that the school receives a copy of the SAR and it generates an award letter.
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    After that is done, then apply for any outside scholarships. Many of them require that you have completed the FAFSA to be eligible.


  • Watch your email and snail mail for updates, forms and notices. These require your attention. A missed form could mean missed money.
  • Give the school at least a month to process your application.
  • You have to reapply for every academic year which (for most schools) begins in the Fall.
  • Turn in your paperwork, if required, in a timely manner.
  • Check out your state's homepage for more information on state grants and scholarships.
  • Know your EFC as well as you know your child's SAT.
  • Reach out to the college financial aid counselor.
  • Don't be paranoid (or at least keep it to a minimum)
  • Prepare for the package—and the shortfall.
  • More money is available earlier. Pay attention to deadlines. Each school has different deadlines to receive financial aid applications. Awards are made on a first come first served basis and then by greatest need. Financial aid awards are made up of a combination of grants (gift aid), loans (self-help aid), and work-study. Funds are limited and once they have been exhausted, less gift aid may be awarded.


  • Do not lie on the form to make your situation appear worse than it is, doing this takes money from people who really need it, plus you may be verified by the school which makes the whole process take a lot longer.
  • Take out loans if necessary, but avoid taking out the maximum amount available. You could end up making $100 per month payments after graduation for every $10,000 you take out in loans.
  • Understand loans, grants and work-study.
  • The FAFSA is free. If you are on a site that wants to charge you to submit the FAFSA, leave.
  • Know the difference between merit-based and need-based aid.
  • Complete the FAFSA.
  • Don't base your decision on finances alone.

Things You'll Need

  • Your taxes from the previous year. (and your parent's if you are a dependent student)
  • A PIN number.
  • Your (and your parent's) name, birthday, and social security number.
  • Time! Doing all this takes a long time. You are not going to get it all finished up in an evening.

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College