By Joe Alaimo
After discussing options with your parents or guardian about how to pay for college, you may find that financial aid is the way to go. As a 32-year-old financial aid professional, I have a few tips to help you navigate the complex process.
BEFORE YOU APPLY FOR GRANTS
Talk to your school counselor
Your advisor can discuss college payment options and is a good resource throughout the financial aid application process.
Read the “FAFSA on the Web?” worksheet
This worksheet allows you to find answers to frequently asked questions about the Free Student Aid Application (FAFSA) and preview FAFSA questions before you enter your information online.
Gather your financial information
Gather all financial information from the previous year, like tax returns and W-2s. This includes the information of your parents or guardians. So if you are applying for financial aid for the 2023-2024 school year, you will need information from 2021.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA should be completed as soon as possible after October 1st of the year prior to intended school entry. You can submit your FAFSA form or apply online. It’s free. If someone asks you to make a payment, you’re on the wrong page.
Look for the confirmation known as the Student Aid Report (SAR).
After filing the FAFSA, you will receive a SAR notifying you of your eligibility and reflecting all of the information you provided in your FAFSA. Your SAR should arrive within three days to three weeks of submitting your FAFSA form.
Check your SAR thoroughly
Read all instructions and make sure the data is correct. If something is wrong and needs to be corrected, make changes to your FAFSA form online.
Call if you do NOT receive confirmation
You can check the status of your application on the FAFSA website, but if you still haven’t received your SAR after five weeks, contact the US Department of Education.
Look for confirmation forms from the colleges you applied to.
The US Department of Education sends your information to all schools listed in your FAFSA. Once schools receive it, they will email or mail financial aid forms to let you know what programs and awards you are eligible for from that college or university.
Call the schools you have listed on your FAFSA if you are NOT receiving confirmation forms
If you do not hear from the schools you have on your FAFSA within three weeks of receiving your SAR confirmation, call the schools’ financial aid departments.
CHOOSING YOUR GRANT PACKAGE
Compare the financial aid packages
Does one school give you better financial aid than another? Is this your school of choice? What does each package include? Be sure to note the differences between scholarships and grants that do not have to be repaid and loans that do have to be repaid.
Select the college you wish to attend
Choose the school that meets your financial and academic needs as well as any other criteria that you consider to be paramount.
Complete the financial aid verification forms for the school you wish to attend
Fill out the form completely. Accept all or part of the financial support offered. Verification forms often come with specific deadlines, so pay close attention to when they’re due.
Submit the completed Financial Aid Verification Forms to the school of your choice. Return the Financial Aid Form to the appropriate school as soon as possible, making sure to include any additional documents noted.
Joe Alaimo, Director of Financial Aid
Joe Alaimo is Director of Financial Aid at Gwynedd Mercy University. Joe has decades of financial aid experience, having served in a variety of roles and as past president of the Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (PASFAA).