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Applying for Financial Aid

One might assume that applying for college financial aid is similar to applying for a home mortgage or a car loan.  I would say it is similar in that you need like information, however with college financial aid, there are more complexities. The financial information you need to apply for financial aid is more in depth vs. what information you would need for other loans. 

When applying for need-based financial aid there are two applications:

  • FAFSA, (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
  • CSS Profile

FAFSA is the most common application and needs to be completed for the following financial aid opportunities:

  • Federal government grants and loans
  • State government grants and loans
  • Need-based grants and merit scholarships at nearly all public universities and most private colleges

Federal and state governments use the FAFSA to not only determine if families are eligible for grants but require families to complete the application if they intend to borrow through the loan programs.  Also, the majority of colleges require families to complete the FAFSA to be considered for their in-house, need-based financial aid. 

How and When to Complete the FAFSA

To access the FAFSA application, go to, https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm?appid=HRSA_BMISS_PRD.  In order to complete the application, you will need to create an FSA ID.  Both the student and parent must have their own ID.  Prior to starting the application, you will need your income tax return, non-retirement investment account and bank account balances.  Please note, for the tax returns you will need your return from 2 years ago.  Example, for the 2022 FAFSA application, you will need your tax return from 2020.    

Each year the FAFSA is released on October 1st.  This means you are applying for your student’s financial aid almost a year prior to the start of college.  Also, since you are using tax returns which are two-years old, your financial situation may have changed.  If it has changed drastically, parents do have the opportunity to ask for a professional judgement from a school, which means the college as the ability to adjust the amount of a student’s financial aid. 

One other note, within FAFSA, there is an opportunity to use a data retrieval tool to access your tax return information automatically.  Using this tool should reduce the number of errors and if you used the tool the school knows that information was transferred unmodified. 

CSS Profile

The other lesser-known financial aid application is the CSS Profile.  There are about 200 colleges across the country that utilize this application.  Most of these are private colleges, however there are some public universities that also use this application.  Here is how to access this application, https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/

The difference between the CSS Profile and FAFSA is that the CSS Profile is more in-depth.  The application process has more questions regarding finances and ask questions around homes and family businesses.  Because of how the CSS Profile handles some of the financial information, the Net Price Calculator is important to incorporate into your planning process. 

One last note on the CSS Profile, there is potentially a cost to complete it.  If your family’s income is greater than $100,000, there is a $25 fee to complete and submit to one school.  Each additional school  costs $16 to submit.  The FAFSA application and submission to schools is free. 


As you can see, there is a bit more work to applying for financial aid vs. applying for a car loan.  I would recommend you apply earlier in the process, especially if you student knows which college they will be attending.  There is a possibility that with your early application, you might receive your financial aid package early. This would allow you to do some comparisons for different schools.  As always, if you have questions or need assistance with completing either the FAFSA or CSS Profile, please reach out to me at https://michaelrebischkefa.com to schedule a 15-minute conversation to discuss your situation. 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.  All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.  All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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