Today we’re talking about applying for financial aid.

Let’s be honest — no parent or student is excited about applying for financial aid using the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile. It’s not how anyone wants to spend their time. However, the truth is, if you apply for financial aid effectively you could save yourself (and your student) thousands of dollars on the cost of college. It’s a necessary evil — and one that could prove incredibly financially beneficial!

We have to at least throw our hat in the ring and go through this tough process that is applying for financial aid to minimize the cost of education for our students.

How Do Financial Aid Applications Work?

So, let’s talk about how the financial aid application works, in general. In just about every college in the country (there are very, very few exceptions), if we want to apply for financial aid, we have to do the FAFSA.

That’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Every student has to complete and submit this to every college if they want to be considered for financial aid of any variety (federal aid, institutional aid, etc). So, we always have to do the FAFSA and we have to send it to each of the colleges to which we apply.

Learn more about the FAFSA and how to determine your family’s need-based aid eligibility: Understanding the Expected Family Contribution in FAFSA

The Federal Methodology

Most schools, as I mentioned earlier, use the federal methodology. This means that they require the FAFSA only. There are some exceptions there that have their own what we call institutional financial aid applications. So, for these specific schools, in addition to the FAFSA, they have their own school-specific form.

However, by and large, the federal methodology schools only require the FAFSA. Most IM and CM schools (institutional methodology and consensus methodology schools), in addition to the FAFSA, require something called the CSS Profile.

Now, this is kind of like the FAFSA on steroids.

This is several 100 questions, a lot more labor intensive, a lot more invasive, they are going to ask just about everything in addition to the standard CSS profile. The colleges that require this form also have the opportunity to ask what are called supplemental questions. So, if we apply to six schools that require the CSS Profile, that last section that is the supplemental question, part of the CSS Profile, we might have another 50-60 more depending on the particular colleges. But again, it’s just something that we need to get through. We have to get through this if we want to be considered for the specific colleges need-based financial aid discounts.

Learn more about the different EFC methodologies: The 3 Different Types of Expected Family Contribution Explained

Institutional Forms

Lastly, to further complicate matters, there are colleges that I alluded to earlier that have their own institutional forms. Sometimes, this is in lieu of the CSS Profile. Sometimes it is in addition to the CSS Profile. So, there are cases for some colleges that we have to recall, we have to complete and submit three different financial aid applications in order to be considered for need-based financial aid.

We can live with making some mistakes on the financial aid applications. But what we cannot do is miss deadlines. Deadlines are mission-critical in this process, if we want to be eligible for the maximum amount of financial aid that our family is entitled to, we have to be perfect with deadlines.

Again, financial aid applications are not a streamlined process. Colleges do not make it easy on parents or students, and that’s intentional. At the end of the day, if a complex financial aid application process deters some families from applying for and receiving aid, colleges save money. Our job is to ensure that you get the most financial aid possible to minimize the cost of college, graduate debt free, and get a stellar education. Parents and students may have to navigate different type of applications, deadlines, and poor communication from colleges and universities about expectations. It’s on us to jump through these hoops to get the most financial aid possible for college!

Our technology platform, MyCAP, is going to take care of a lot of this for you. We’re going to tell you:

We have to be aware that this information is not going to be communicated very well directly from the colleges! So, the onus is on us as families to make sure that we are checking the appropriate boxes at each of the colleges that we are applying to. Is applying for financial aid fun, no, but it’s something that we’ve got to get through!

Learn more about the FAFSA application: FAFSA Changes 2023-24: What You Need To Know

Learn more about the CSS Profile: 2023-2024 CSS Profile Dos, Don’ts, and Updates