Policies, Forms & Deadlines
In general, eligibility for financial aid is based on need (need-based). Some financial assistance is awarded for merit (merit-based). Merit-based aid may be awarded for scholastic excellence, athletics, or other specialized talents. Please note that some colleges/universities offer only need-based assistance. As policies vary from school to school, students and parents are strongly encouraged to closely research and familiarize themselves the financial assistance and scholarship policies of the schools to which they are applying.
From a practical standpoint, the first step in the financial aid process is data gathering. Visit the web sites of the colleges and universities you are applying to. Which financial aid applications are required? When are they due? It is often helpful to set up a chart for tracking this information.
All colleges and universities ask that students and their parents file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some colleges and universities also require that families file the CSS Financial Aid Profile (CSS Profile) a form administered by the College Board. In addition, many schools have supplemental forms that you are asked to complete.
While the first possible date to file the FAFSA is January 1st, the CSS Profile and supplemental forms may have earlier deadlines. Due dates for these forms vary from school to school, and can also be influenced by the timing of a student’s application for admission or the timing of a scholarship application. We strongly encourage you to carefully research this information: missing deadlines can have a significant impact on your financial aid package.
Students and their parents may also elect to begin certain aspects of the FAFSA process in advance of the initial filing date. According to MEFA you should consider taking some preliminary steps prior to January 1st. While there are electronic and paper versions of the FAFSA, filing online is recommended. Not only is it faster, filing online may simplify your application, and tends to reduce errors.