8 steps to applying for financial aid

pink piggy bankNo one likes to fill out financial aid forms, but if you think about it, it might be the easiest money you’ll ever get. If you don’t start early on this step of the process, it could mean losing some big bucks.

1. Get organized: Before you start, you’ll need this information from you and your parents:

  • W2 forms from the last two years (you’ll only have these forms if you’ve had a formal job)
  • 1040 forms (the form to report taxes) from from the last two years (you’ll only have these if you’ve filed taxes for any reason)
  • Dates of birth
  • Social security numbers


You’ll also need:

  • Access to a printer
  • Access to the internet
  • Envelopes and stamps
  • $25 (Only if you need to apply for the CSS profile. There are a limited number of fee waivers available.)


2. Start early: The federal financial aid process opens on the first of January. So once the new year rolls around, start harassing your parents for their W2 and 1040 forms (what they fill out to report taxes). If they don’t have those forms right away, sit down with your parents and have them estimate the numbers. You can fill out the exact numbers later when their tax forms become available. Once you actually get a hold of those forms, make a lot of copies because you’ll be sending them out later.

3. Begin the financial aid process: Visit fafsa.ed.gov to get started. Unless you had a job where you received a formal paycheck, there won’t be much to fill out about you. Print out the completed report, the Student Aid Report (SAR), and all the forms your potential college expects from you. Most colleges have extra paperwork for you to complete so look for extra information such as the student non-filling statement and financial aid application.


Free Applications for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA:

< http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/FOTWWebApp/complete013.jsp >

4. Check the deadlines for each school: Each school has a different deadline for receiving financial aid forms, which can make organizing a nightmare. You have to send all the information to FAFSA way before financial aid forms are due for your school. If you fill out everything on the first of January, all you have to do is wait for the exact numbers.

5. Request a pin: The pin is issued by the government and serves as your signature and your parents’ signature for all your financial aid documents. Without a pin, you’ll have to submit all of your forms by snail mail instead of online. Request a pin at pin.ed.gov.


You should open an account for yourself and another for your parents. To get the pin, you’ll need the social security numbers and dates of birth for you and your parents. They will only show you the pin once so make sure you save it in a safe place.

Your parents may already have a pin if they’ve recently enrolled in college or if your older siblings have already gone through the financial aid process. If this is the case, you’ll need to request a duplicate pin. They call it a “duplicate,” but it just means that they’ll remind them what their pin is. Check the website to find out if your parents already have a pin.

Get your pin here:

< https://pin.ed.gov/PINWebApp/PINApplicationServlet?locale=en_US_PINApplication >

6. Complete the CSS profile: The FAFSA is required if you’re applying for financial aid at any school. Most schools also require a CSS profile. This process is a bit more in-depth and has more steps than the FAFSA.  You can’t complete the profile without an account at collegeboard.com, so gett an account there before you start.


You will need to print out all of the CSS forms and copies of tax forms, along with a cover letter to send to the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC). You’ll scan all your required documents to collegeboard.com to send to the colleges that require it. The CSS profile needs to be into IDOC before you send your information to the school.

CSS Profile: < https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/index.jsp >
IDOC: < https://idoc.collegeboard.com/idoc/index.jsp >
IDOC phone number: (571) 485-3000

7. Complete any extra steps: If you have one parent in your household, you might need to take some extra steps. Call 1-800- 4FED-AID (433-3243) for more information about filing under one parent.


8. Copy and store your information: Keep all the information you gathered throughout this process in a safe place because you’ll need it for applying for financial aid next year.


Don’t ever pay anyone to do this process for you – it’s most likely a scam. Do your research and ask questions. A single missed deadline could cost you a year in college, so get organized and start early. 


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