How to Apply for Financial Aid

Below you will find a suggested method to prepare and submit your Financial Aid application. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the primary financial aid document you will need to file in order to receive financial aid at any college, university, or trade school. Submitting the online FAFSA can be accomplished easily if you follow the guidelines below.

  • Deadlines: Be sure to check your state and college deadline for submitting your FASFA. Always adhere to the earliest deadline! Submitting your financial aid documents on time is critical to maximizing the amount of free aid you may receive. Your college may require additional documents like the CSS PROFILE or other institutional forms. You will typically find institutional forms on the college's Financial Aid Website. TIP: If you do miss a deadline contact the Financial Aid Office immediately and explain your reason and then file as soon as possible.
  • School Codes: The government uses six-digit codes to identify each college and university on the FAFSA application. Research your School Codes prior to filling out your FAFSA.
  • Federal Student Aid ID: Every student will need a Federal Student Aid ID to electronically sign the FAFSA application. You can apply for your Federal Student Aid ID at TIP: If you are a dependent student, one of your parents will also need to sign your application with their own Federal Student Aid ID.
  • Documents: Gather the documents you need to fill out the FAFSA ahead of time. This will allow you to efficiently move through the online FAFSA application.
  • Submit FAFSA: Fill out and submit your FAFSA online. One of the most critical steps in applying for Federal and state financial aid programs is filing the FAFSA. This Federal application uses a formula to determine a family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount of money a family is expected to pay for college costs. Colleges use this information to determine what sources of aid the family qualifies for including grants, scholarships, work-study, and loan programs. TIP: If you have not completed your taxes or need to change information later you can log back in and adjust the FAFSA at anytime.
  • FAFSA Output: Once you complete the FAFSA you will receive a confirmation and it may list your estimated eligibility for the Pell Grant and Federal Subsidized Direct loan. It will also list your estimated EFC (Expected Family Contribution) Remember this estimated aid can change if you change or update financial information on your FAFSA.
  • Colleges Receive your FAFSA: he information from your FAFSA form will be sent to the Financial Aid Offices that you selected on your FAFSA application. Each college then follows a Federal Methodology (FM) formula to determine your family's financial need for that particular college. Financial need will be different for each college you apply to because each college's cost of attendance (COA) is different.
  •  Cost of Attendance (COA) minus Expected Family Contribution equals Financial Need/Eligibility.

*Colleges that use the CSS PROFILE, will use the Institutional Methodology (IM) to determine how they will distribute some grants, scholarships, and aid.


  • Colleges Determine Aid: Each college's Financial Aid Office then determines what aid it has available to help meet your demonstrated financial need. They will put together a Financial Aid Package or Award Letter for you. The aid may come in the form of Federal or state grants, work study, private endowments or scholarships, federal student loans and so on. TIP: Your Award Letter or Package may be delivered via email, college’s online system, or mail. Your financial aid package may or may not cover your total financial need. If financial need is not entirely met by what a college offers in their financial aid package/letter, this unmet need is called a "gap." This means that resources must be found in order to meet the full cost of attendance. In many cases this will mean student and/or parent loans.
  • Special Circumstances: Sometimes special circumstances affect a family’s ability to contribute to higher education costs. If there are special circumstances you want each college to consider when they review your financial aid application, send a letter to each Financial Aid Office outlining your special circumstance in the form of an Appeal Letter. 
  • Examples of special circumstances include:
    • Emergency or unexpected expenses.
    • Unusually large medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance.
    • Reduced income due to unemployment, job change, or retirement.


Once you've received your financial aid package and know what financial need has been met and what amount if any remains, you will have some decisions to make. First, you must decide if you want to accept the financial aid package as it is offered. Next, you will need to determine if you will fund the gap with savings, a tuition payment plan, a Federal Student loan, a Federal Parent PLUS loan, or a Private student loan or a combination. You can learn more about all of your funding options by attending a AAA Student Lending Seminar or Webinar. Find dates and locations at today!