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College Financial Aid Process

Overview of the College Financial Aid Process

Financial Aid Process Timeline:

Fall of student’s senior year:

  • Contact college financial aid offices or check their website for deadlines and required forms, e.g. the CSS Profile or institutional forms.
  • Visit  Both the student and one parent require a PIN (two separate numbers) in order to securely sign the FAFSA electronically.  Applying for a PIN requires only 5 minutes, and it will be mailed to your home within two weeks.

After January 1 of student’s senior year:

  • Immediately utilize the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet at to ready yourself for filing the FAFSA.  The annual version of the FAFSA required for your student corresponds with the school year in which they will be a first-year college student (i.e. if your student graduates from Benet in 2011, you will be filing the 2011-2012 FAFSA). 
  • File the online FAFSA as soon as possible, using the PIN you already acquired. File no later than the second week of February.  If you are waiting for W-2s or the completion of your tax forms, you may estimate answers by using last year’s tax information.  Once you have the most current tax forms completed, you must update your FAFSA by logging into your FAFSA account.

After you complete the FAFSA:

  • You will receive a copy of your Student Aid Report.  If your SAR needs to be corrected, contact the financial aid office at your college for instructions.

Sometime between March and July,

  • You will receive financial aid award letters from each college you listed on the FAFSA. 
  • Don’t compare the total awards from each institution.  Compare the remaining costs.
  • Furthermore, scrutinize how much and what types of loans you have been given.  Some aid packages may meet all demonstrated need with loan only, while others will include grants, which you do not need to repay.

After you receive your award letter, you need to accept all or part of the financial aid offered. 

  • Sign and return the letter to the college.  This is not a commitment to attend the institution, but please inform them ASAP if you decide not to attend so that they are able to distribute those funds to someone else.  

Key Financial Aid Terms:

  • Aid package - A combination of scholarship, grant, loan and/or work-study determined by a college financial aid office.
  • Grants - Awards based on financial need that do not require repayment.  Grants are available through the federal government, state agencies and educational institutions.
  • Scholarships - Awards to students based on merit or merit-plus-need that do not have to be repaid.
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) - An amount you and your family are expected to contribute toward your education. It is used in determining eligibility for federal student aid.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - The application required for students to be considered for federal student financial aid.  The FAFSA is processed free of charge and is used by most state agencies and colleges.
  • Student Aid Report (SAR) - The report you will receive after your FAFSA has been processed that will list your EFC.


College Financial Aid

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In addition to these resources that are focused on financial aid, more information on financial aid is found under many college search resources.
Item Name Posted By Date Posted
ACT Free Financial Aid Need Estimator Link Administration 9/20/2011  Link  more ] Administration 8/31/2011
Explanation of College Financial Aid PDF (13.7 KB) Administration 1/10/2011
FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid Link  more ] Administration 4/24/2010
Fastweb Link  more ] Administration 4/24/2010
FinAid! Link  more ] Administration 4/24/2010
Merit Aid Link Administration 1/13/2011
Scholarships Link Administration 1/10/2011
School Soup Link Administration 1/13/2011
Student Aid On the Web: Federal Loans and Aid  Link  more ] Administration 4/24/2010
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