Financial Aid (both Need Based and Merit Aid)
To receive need based financial aid, and even to get a federally backed student loan, you must fill out the FAFSA . For some, mostly private, colleges you must also fill out the CSS Profile.
The FAFSA cannot be filed until JANUARY of the year in which you are entering college (this year, Jan. 1 2011). The information on the FAFSA is supposed to come from your COMPLETED income taxes for the preceding year (this year, the income taxes for 2010). You may fill it out, however, based on estimated income tax. You will be asked to back that up with a copy of your income tax return once it is filed, but you can go ahead and start it as soon as you can.
In the meantime, you can begin, TODAY, with the FAFSA4Caster (www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov
) which will give you an idea of what you can expect to receive. And filling out the fafsa4caster will give you a head start on the actual FAFSA, since there is a mechanism within it which will allow you to transfer information over to the actual FAFSA on or after Jan. 1.
The CSS Profile (https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/index.jsp
) goes online on October 1, 2010. Many private colleges require this and use it as their primary means of determining financial aid. So it is wise to go ahead on Oct. 1 and begin your application immediately. The financial information that you put into the Profile is the tax return information for the previous year (2009), so you should have all of the information ready to put into the application.
There is an initial charge for filing your information with CSS Profile and for the report to be sent out to ONE college (last year it was $25.00 for the initial report). After that, you pay for each report to be sent out to individual colleges ($16.00 for each subsequent report). For that reason, you do not want to send it out to every college to which you are applying – only to the colleges that require it.
IF you are thinking of applying early decision, and you are going to need financial aid, you should contact the financial aid office of the college that you are considering and make sure that they can come up with a financial aid offer in time. Some schools will. Some schools won’t. If they do have a financial aid offer in time, it will be based either on their own financial aid form or on the CSS Profile, so timely filling out of this application is a real necessity.
Most schools will consider your application “needs blind” – without looking to see if you are applying for financial aid. But some schools will be looking for full paying students, so you should be aware of that. It is no reason NOT to apply for financial aid, but if you really do not require ANY aid, even a loan, there is no real advantage to applying for aid anyway.
Schools generally know what sort of moneys they have available, so you don’t really have to look for “outside” scholarships for financial aid. There is a website, however, that is fairly reputable, www.fastweb.com that you might want to register with to see what’s out there. It does have annoying ads, but is otherwise pitfall-free.
Merit scholarship aid is available at many colleges, including some of the most prestigious ones. Most colleges which have such aid will notify you themselves. Some colleges will use merit aid as an enticement to lure students who might otherwise choose to go to an Ivy or another such exclusive/ultra competitive college with the promise of generous merit aid.
There are, besides, merit scholarships available on the outside. Go to www.meritaid.com
(an offshoot of fastweb.com
)for a search for such scholarships, again a reputable, and free, site.
Be aware, however, that if you qualify for need-based financial aid, the college that offers you that aid may subtract the merit award that you win from the need-based aid that they have offered. They do this to ensure that they can distribute the need-based aid in as equitable a fashion as possible.
We will be having a financial aid meeting in November or early December, in time for you to fill out the FAFSA with some degree of confidence. In the meantime, you should go ahead and do the fafsa4caster and the CSS Profile as soon as you can. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll have some indication of what you can expect in the way of financial aid.