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Financial Aid 101

Applying for financial aid can be as intimidating as applying to college. It doesn’t have to be. Here is a crash course in Financial Aid 101!

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid):

The FAFSA is the first and main piece of financial aid. This is aid from the federal government and applies to all universities and colleges in the country. Students must be US citizens or US permanent residents to be eligible for FAFSA. The FAFSA is filed online. High school seniors can start the process as early as October 1st of senior year, when the FAFSA opens.

FAFSA tips:

  1. File FAFSA online at Do not ever go to another site to file a FAFSA!!!!

  • 2017/2018 FAFSA: This is last year’s FAFSA. If you are graduating high school in 2018 and will begin college this summer (summer of 2018), then you will apply for both this FAFSA and the 2018/2019 FAFSA. This FAFSA will give financial aid covering Fall 2017 – Summer 2018. This FAFSA is based on parent and student 2015 tax returns (if the student worked in 2015).

  • 2018/2019 FAFSA: This is this year’s FAFSA and was available starting October 1, 2017. This FAFSA is based on parent and student 2016 tax returns (if the student worked in 2016) and will give financial aid covering Fall 2018 – Summer 2019. All current high school seniors graduating in 2018 who need financial aid will submit the 2018/2019 FAFSA.​

  1. You must file a FAFSA every year your child is in college to get federal financial aid.

  2. FAFSA calculates an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) based on parent and student tax returns. If parents are divorced, you can use the tax returns of whichever parent takes care of the child 51% of the time or more. If that parent is remarried, than both parent and step-parent tax returns are used as the FAFSA is based on household income.

  3. The FAFSA allows students to list up to 10 universities they will be applying to. That way, the government can send your EFC information to each college so that they can use that information to compile a financial aid award package for your students.

  4. In a nutshell, if your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is zero, then you have a lot of need since the government thinks you cannot contribute any money to your child’s college education. Alternatively, if your EFC is 50,000, that is what the government thinks you can pay per year for your child’s education. In this case, there is not a lot of need. The colleges your child applied to will subtract your EFC from the school Cost of Attendance (COA) which includes tuition, room and board, book and fees, and miscellaneous expenses (insurance, transportation, personal expenses…). The difference is the student’s financial need at that particular college. It is then the job of the college financial aid office to compile a package to help your child meet this financial need. They might offer grants (free money), loans or work study.

  5. The FAFSA will primarily only give grant aid to low income families. The pell grant is the biggest piece of free money from the federal government (up to $5,920/year). Your EFC must be under 5,000 in order to be pell eligible. Depending on your EFC, students might qualify for full or partial pell.

CSS/Financial Aid Profile:

The CSS Profile allows students to apply for non-federal financial aid (university endowment aid) at over 400 member colleges. Typically the more expensive private and public universities require the Profile. The CSS Profile is provided by the Collegeboard (same people who provide the SAT test). Click here to view the colleges that require the Profile.


IDOCS is a document retrieval system run by the College Board, and only pertains to schools that use the CSS Profile. If a school you have applied to uses IDOCS to retrieve tax documents, such as your 1040, W2’s and others, you will receive an email with instructions on how to log in and upload these documents.

Call Ascent College Advising for help understanding and applying for financial aid. Julia Morgan 964 651-3335 or Lisa Solovay 954 661-2052.

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