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The Financial Aid Process


Applying for Traditional College Financial Aid

There is close to $200 billion of traditional college financial aid handed out to undergraduate students every year. The first step to determine how much of this windfall could be yours is to fill out a financial aid application called FAFSA which is administered by Federal Student Aid which is an office of the US Department of Education. 

  1. To receive traditional sources of aid, including government grants, low interest government loans (subsidized and unsubsidized), college scholarships or work study, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form must be completed and filed. Go to to get more information or to start your online application. This form can be submitted as early as October 1st of the year before you plan to enter college.
  2. Most prestigious universities such as Notre Dame, USC and Northwestern also require the College Scholarship Services (CSS) PROFILE form to be completed and filed. Go to to get more information or to start this application.
  3. In addition, some schools have their own required forms that must be completed and filed. Go to the each college's website to determine their individual financial aid requirements, including whether they require you to complete just FAFSA or the CSS PROFILE application as well.
  4. Some families may also need to file additional forms such as State forms, the Business/Farm Supplement and/or the Divorced/Separated Agreement. These requirements will become apparent when you complete steps 1-3 above.

CollegeSmart Solutions is available to help guide you through this oftentimes overwhelming process.



Expected Financial Contribution (EFC)

The primary purpose of the financial aid forms is for FAFSA and CSS to calculate how much your "fair share" of the cost of college is before they will let you qualify for any of the traditional financial aid.

  1. The EFC is your baseline Out-Of-Pocket cost for your student(s) to attend college.
  2. The EFC is calculated using the data you provided in the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE if applicable.
  3. The lower your EFC, the higher the amount of financial aid will be available to you.
  4. If the EFC exceeds the cost of the college, you will not qualify for traditional financial aid and will have to fund the entire cost.
  5. Oftentimes, even if you do not qualify for free financial aid, goverment subsidized loans may be offered to you to help pay for college.

CollegeSmart Solutions has helped many families reduce their EFCs. This has increased available free financial aid which has minimized or eliminated student and parent college loans.



How They Determine if You are Eligible and for How Much

Though the financial aid application process is administered by FAFSA and CSS, the actual financial aid award(s) you receive will come directly from the college(s). Once you have been accepted into a school by it's admissions office (college admissions applications are separate from financial aid applications), it will automatically send you a financial aid award letter assuming you identified that college on your financial aid application. For any college you did not identify on the financial aid application, you will first need to re-contact FAFSA and CSS to add those schools to your list.

  1. Your eligibility for traditional financial aid from the schools and government is based on your "Financial Need" which is calculated by subtracting your EFC from the cost of each school you are looking to possibly attend.
  2. COA - EFC = Financial Need  For example, you want to attend a $35,000/yr college and your EFC "fair share" is $20,000; your Financial Need will be $15,000.
    • COA (Cost of Attendance) varies by school and includes Tuition, Books, Room/Board, Incidentals, etc.
    • EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is the amount you are expected to pay annually toward the cost of college​​​​
  3. Each college you get admitted to will then send you a Financial Aid Award Package based on your Financial Need. Note, each school will offer you a different amount because: 1) each school's COA is different; and 2) some schools are more generous with aid and others are not.

CollegeSmart Solutions' goal is to show you how to obtain the maximum aid package allowable and to show you which colleges are more generous with financial aid.

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