Information adapted from the Financial Fit Program.
After you send in your college applications, your work isn't quite finished. You still need to fill out your financial aid documents, which will determine what aid you receive from the government and from each college.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA, is a form that you and your parents fill out sometime between January 1 and June 30 of your senior year of high school, or the year that you will enroll in college. It is strongly recommended that you complete the FAFSA as early as possible. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grant money and federal student loan money. It also may be used to determine state and college aid eligibility.
On the FAFSA website, you can fill out the FAFSA electronically, you can download a PDF and then print and mail it, or you can request a paper version.
To fill out the FAFSA, you will need:
The outcome of the FAFSA is your Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC. Don't let your EFC number confuse you. The EFC is not what you pay, and it's certainly not always what you can afford. Frank Palmasani recommends thinking of your EFC as a number that is used to determine your eligibility for financial aid programs.
The CSS Profile is a separate document that was created by the College Board and is required by some colleges. The CSS Profile is used to calculate your family's contribution. It is filed in addition to the FAFSA and usually requests more financial information than the FAFSA requests.
Not all colleges require the CSS Profile. Check if any colleges on your list require the CSS Profile before you fill it out.
Sometimes your college will require you to fill out additional financial aid documents. These documents may determine any aid that you receive directly from the college, so be sure to fill them out as accurately as possible.
For more information about the FAFSA and CSS Profile, including when to file and the variables used to establish your EFC, check out the Financial Fit Program.