Apply for financial aid
Now that you and your child have settled on and applied to six schools, it's time to start investigating how much this education will cost and how to pay for it. Financial aid is available from federal and state governments, private organizations and the schools. In some cases, such as specialized scholarships, you can apply. For others, such as grants and loans, you will be required to submit paperwork that will be used to determine your ability to pay and thus the student's need. The school will then decide on a financial aid package that you will receive in the form of an award letter. It will detail grants, scholarships, loans and any available work-study programs that the school can provide as part of the overall financing of the college education.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
To apply for federal and state aid, you will need to complete the FAFSA. This form may be completed online, or you can submit a paper version to the schools of choice. The FAFSA is used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), according to a congressionally-determined formula, and then determine your overall financial need which the school will then try and satisfy with grants, scholarships, loans and other programs. You will need to complete and submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 of your child's senior year. Each school will have different submission deadlines, so make sure you are aware of them and submit early.
Student-Aid Report (SAR)
Typically within two to four weeks after submitting your FAFSA, you will receive a SAR. You will review this document and contact the school to make any required changes. You will then be able to add additional schools to the list within the FAFSA. If you did this form online, the reports will automatically be submitted to each school.
The school may notify you that they need additional information, including W-2s, tax records, and even a verification worksheet. Complete and return the information as quickly as possible.
Once the college has processed your application, they will send you an award letter outlining your financial aid package. Review the details carefully and make sure you fully understand the terms.
As part of the financial package, you may be authorized certain loans. You may need to complete an application, or sign a promissory note to guarantee these funds.
If you haven't figured it out by now, there is a certain amount, the EFC, that you and/or your child are expected to pay. Hopefully, you started a savings plan for your child, because this is when it will come in handy. The school has done everything they can financially, and now it is up to you to help your child pay for that college education.
Don't forget about grants and scholarships
Working with high school counselors, as well as college admission folks, make sure you apply for scholarships and grants.