Financial Aid [Part 2]

How do I qualify for financial aid?

As part of the application process and each year thereafter that you are a college student, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS).

The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal aid like the Pell Grant, work-study and federal student loans and is used by colleges that participate in the Title IV federal financial aid program. It is often required by states and schools for their own scholarship and grant programs.

The CSS Profile, administered by the College Board, is only used by certain schools as part of their financial aid process for grant and scholarship aid. You can view the list of participating schools on the CSS Profile site. The College Board charges a fee to complete the Profile, in addition to a fee for each recipient school. However, students can apply for a fee waiver if this poses a hardship. Typically, families with an annual income below $40,000 will automatically qualify for a waiver covering the initial Profile cost and processing fees for up to eight recipient schools.  

Both applications open on October 1 prior to the year you will be starting college. If you will matriculate for the 2020-2021 school year, you can fill out the FAFSA and CSS beginning October 1, 2019.

The FAFSA deadline is June 30 after the school year in which you want aid. For example, for the 2019-20 school year, the deadline is June 30, 2020. The CSS Profile deadline differs across schools, but we advise submitting no later than two weeks before the earliest deadline. To receive the highest amount of aid, we recommend completing both applications as close as possible to the opening date.

For both the FAFSA and CSS, students and parents will need to provide Social Security Numbers, Alien Registration Numbers (if not U.S. citizens), federal income tax information (you may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool), and records of untaxed income (if applicable). Unlike the FAFSA, both parents must complete the CSS even if divorced or separated.

Using this information, colleges prepare a financial aid award letter, often presented along with your acceptance notification, detailing the various types and amounts of aid you will be issued if you choose to attend that school. This letter also contains your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) — the total cost of attendance minus the sum of all financial aid awarded. This is the amount you are responsible for paying out of pocket; however, you can make arrangements with the college to pay this amount in installments. Note that the financial aid award letter does not include scholarships received from outside sources, so you will need to factor these in if applicable.

This is another reason why it is in your best interest to complete the FAFSA and CSS as soon as possible — each college will have ample time to review your financial situation and provide you with a clear breakdown of your costs, which you can then compare across schools.


At the Admission Masters, we have a team of experts dedicated solely to financial aid. Whether you need assistance with filling out your FAFSA and CSS, or determining the financial feasibility of attending your dream school, we’re here to help! For a free consultation, give us a call today!

College Admission Consulting Group, ‘Admission Masters’
[LA, Irvine, Brea in California, Seoul in Korea]

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