Step 3: Completing your FAFSA

At this point it is necessary to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is a standardized form that colleges and the federal government use to determine how much money a student needs and how much money the student and his/her family is expected to contribute. Families must complete a new FAFSA every year they are seeking financial aid. You can get FAFSA forms and more information by going to

Driver’s License or Social Security Card
Last year’s tax return
Bank Statements
Investment Records
Last year’s tax returns
Bank Statements
Investment Records
Business or Farm Records
Documentation of special circumstances (for example, medical costs, death of a parent, tuition expense, divorce, etc.)
  • Make at least two complete copies of your FAFSA and all of the support materials above and keep them handy. You’ll probably need to provide hard copies to your school for verification.
  • Proofread your application closely for errors to avoid processing delays.
  • Deadlines: You cannot submit the FAFSA before January 1st annually, but if you submit your FAFSA soon after, you will know your expected contribution earlier.

What you’ll get back: The Student Aid Report The US Department of Education will process the FAFSA form and mail back a Student Aid Report (SAR). This is a summary of the information that was provided. It’s important to check this report for errors. At the top of this form the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is shown. This is the amount of money – considering all factors – which the government determines a family can afford to put towards college. And in turn colleges use this figure to qualify students for financial aid.

Weigh Your Options CarefullyYou may be considering a few different schools and making your decision based on the financial aid package they have to offer. Don’t assume that just because one school is more expensive than another that the cheaper school will result in the lowest net out-of-pocket expense. Many private schools offer more financial aid – especially if they want to compete for high-achieving students. Compare your offers and do the math – you could be pleasantly surprised! And while the bottom line expense to you is a very important factor in choosing a college, don’t forget to consider some other key aspects of a school that really make a difference in your education. Some examples include school reputation, opportunities for research, accelerated and study abroad programs, and college internships.