Before assuming the “sticker price” of a given college is out of reach, learn more about the aid resources at colleges that interest you and to explore options for financial assistance!
Estimating your Family Contribution
All colleges are required to have an online price calculator on their financial aid webpage. Another online calculator is the “FAFSA4caster” (fafsa4caster.ed.gov) used to estimate the family contribution or ability to pay for college using a basic federal formula in the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form that is required at all colleges. Some of the more selective private colleges with generous grant resources require an additional form called the CSS PROFILE in addition to FAFSA.
When and How to Apply for Financial Aid
Parents should educate themselves about college financial aid early, starting with the resources linked on this page. The actual financial aid application forms cannot be submitted until January of senior year. Forms are submitted online, and require some early organization of your annual income tax paperwork since many of the questions asked draw from fields on the tax forms. Colleges may require submission of copies of federal tax forms as part of the “verification” process.
During senior fall, students and parents start by obtaining a PIN number and opening an account on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Financial Aid) web site. Also familiarize yourself with CSS PROFILE if required by your colleges. Most colleges require that FAFSA and PROFILE be submitted around February 1, but deadlines vary by college. Always check individual college financial aid web pages for financial aid deadlines and specific required forms.
Do not miss deadlines. If a deadline approaches and you do not yet have the necessary tax forms to use in completing financial aid forms, the best advice is to submit FAFSA and PROFILE using estimated financial information. You will have an opportunity to update your figures when reviewing the student aid report returned to you from FAFSA.
Scholarships from Other Sources
The key to winning private scholarships is finding programs, often local or based on very specific personal interests, where you may be a very good match with the award criteria, then putting in the work to apply to several such scholarships. Remember to check parents' employers, professional associations, or labor unions for available grants or scholarships. Community organizations, fraternal groups, and churches also may be worth investigating for special opportunities.
Timing: Many private scholarship applications are due in late fall or winter of senior year, generally after admission applications have been filed. Some have earlier deadlines, and a few are targeted to high school juniors.
Never pay for “scholarship search.” We do not recommend the use of scholarship search services that charge a fee for providing a list of award programs. Such services offer little substantive information; some are scams. Do consult web sites with free information and guidebooks. Pay particular attention to application deadlines. Realize that searching and applying for financial aid takes time and effort, but the results can be very beneficial.
- The Project on Student Debt
- “FAFSA4caster” (fafsa4caster.ed.gov)
- CSS Financial Aid Profile
- FastWeb — One of the most comprehensive and well-regarded scholarship search sites
- Finaid.org — Advice on financial aid terms, forms, strategies, and scholarship search
- NASFAA — Advice from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
- MHESO — Minnesota Office of Higher Education
- Meritaid.com – lets you search colleges based on types of merit aid awarded.
- Cappex.com – College and Scholarship search tool
- Scholarship America — An organization that administers many private scholarships
- Guaranteed Scholarships — Web links to various colleges' "guaranteed" scholarships, usually based on minimum GPA, test scores, or other personal factors