Financial Aid Checklist: Part I

Paying for college is a concern for most families. But the single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. Even if you think you won't qualify, apply. You may be pleasantly surprised. Today, we're pleased to bring you Part I of a checklist of tasks you should be tackling right now to pay for college, courtesy of College Advisor Alice Kleeman. Use this checklist to make sure you are eligible for ALL the aid you may qualify for.

  • Check with your high school about the availability of informational sessions on financial aid or scholarships at your school or in the surrounding community.
  • All students applying for financial aid -- whether you are considering attending two-year or four-year colleges—will complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Familiarize yourself with the form. BUT DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR FAFSA BEFORE JANUARY 1—it will not be processed for the correct school year!
  • Many private colleges require an additional financial aid form, the CSS Profile. A list of the schools that require the CSS PROFILE can be found here. It is required in addition to the FAFSA in order to be considered for institutional financial aid at the listed schools. The CSS PROFILE should be completed by the earliest school or program filing date.
  • If the colleges you are applying to have their own institutional financial aid forms, be sure you have obtained them. Pay attention to their deadlines— they may differ from those for the FAFSA or CSS PROFILE.
  • Obtain a FAFSA PIN (Personal Identification Number) for yourself and for one of your parents here. Later, when you file the FAFSA electronically, you will use the PIN to create an electronic signature. While you may obtain a PIN now, you will not file the FAFSA until after January 1.
  • Financial aid calculators can provide an early understanding of what you may be asked to pay at individual colleges. Each college's website will have a "net-price calculator" or "net-cost calculator" to help your family determine how much that college would cost for YOU. Use these tools, but remember your actual financial aid offer may differ from the info on the calculator, based on a variety of factors. Again: this is a start.
  • The FAFSA site offers the FAFSA4caster, a tool your family can use to gain an idea of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the figure the FAFSA provides to colleges to show how much your family may be expected to contribute toward your education in your first year of college. Some colleges will ask you for more and some less, but this is a starting point, and is also used to determine federal aid eligibility.
  • Check with your high school college counselor to make sure you understand any special requirements for applying for aid at public universities in your state and have completed all forms necessary to qualify for state financial aid.
  • Begin to keep track of financial aid requirements and deadlines at the schools to which you are applying. Read all financial aid information carefully, paying particular attention to eligibility, requirements and deadlines. Use the Financial Aid Deadline Organizer available here. Or your high school may have a system, such as Naviance, for tracking progress and deadlines. Check with your high school guidance or college counselor.
  • Begin researching scholarships. Try a free FastWeb scholarship search on the Internet, check out the scholarship resources available at your high school and explore these additional resources for scholarships on the Resources page here.
  • Never pay a fee to locate financial aid or scholarship information. Beware of scams. You may see offers of help in obtaining financial aid or scholarships in the mail, on the Web, and in magazines. Some of these are legitimate. Others are not. Avoid any organization or service that either guarantees a reward or charges a fee for completing the FAFSA or applying for or receiving a scholarship. Information on legitimate financial aid and scholarships is easily available at no cost at:

The U.S. Department of Education

College Goal Sunday

The College Board



• Your local library

• Your high school college counseling office

  • If you do not have a Social Security number, talk to a trusted counselor or teacher about how to pursue and apply for financial aid and scholarships.

Check back after the Thanksgiving holiday for Part II of our checklist!

Alice Kleeman has served as the College Advisor for 19 years in the College and Career Center of Menlo- Atherton High School, a public high school of 2,000 students in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also teaches each summer on the faculty of the College Board’s Summer Admission Institute for new admission officers.




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