The financial aid process can often be confusing and overwhelming. The timeline below provides an overview of the process and when each step in the process occurs. Deadlines will vary depending on the school that you are attending and the aid that you are applying for, so know the application deadlines specific to you, and make sure you leave enough time to collect all the necessary information and documentation. Apply as early as possible for each program to ensure that you receive maximum consideration and don’t miss out on financial aid.
Please note that beginning in the 2016-17 application cycle, students will use their “prior-prior year” tax return information to complete aid applications. In other words, students starting college in the fall of 2017 will use family income data from the 2015 tax return.
JULY – SEPTEMBER
Research local scholarships. More on scholarships.
Determine what your “expected family contribution” will be by filling out the College Board’s “Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator.”
Use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your federal student aid.
Learn more about financial aid and affording college:
- The College Board also has a good collection of financial aid resources.
- The US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website is another outstanding resource.
- The National Association of College Admission Counselors has this collection or resources.
Get an estimate of what colleges on your list will cost using the Net Price Calculator on each school’s web site.
Look up priority deadlines and required forms. Check websites and call financial aid offices to confirm.
Read up on need-based financial aid. Middlebury College has a resource explaining need-based financial aid. It’s a great resource, even if Middlebury is not on your list.
OCTOBER – NOVEMBER
CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Available October 1st
FAFSA Available October 1st
Get to know the FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
Continue scholarship research
Find out if you need to file the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
Complete the PROFILE (if required) and FAFSA
DECEMBER – JANUARY
Submit applications for admission
Apply for outside scholarships
File FAFSA and PROFILE early, preferably when your child applies to college.
Prepare your tax return as close to Feb 1st as possible because you might need it to verify your income.
Add schools to FAFSA and PROFILE as needed
Submit any other institution applications for aid
MARCH – APRIL
You should speak to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend if there will be a significant change in your or your parent’s income for the present year or if your family has other circumstances that cannot be reported on the FAFSA.
Compare your financial aid awards. Remember: you do not need to accept all parts of the financial aid award. For example, you may not want to take out all of the loans available to you.
Communicate any special circumstances to financial aid offices
Research loans offered and other financing options
Make your decision no later than May 1
Students applying early decision or early action may have earlier aid application deadlines. It’s generally best to submit aid applications at the same time as admission applications. Always call the college’s financial aid office to check deadlines and requirements.
Need-based financial aid and merit scholarships are not available at all US universities. More about international students.