So how much financial aid can you expect to collect?
It all depends on how much your family is able to pay, often called the expected family contribution (EFC). The depth of your family's pockets is measured by calculating income and assets as well as the total number of immediate family members and how many of them are in college.
To determine your EFC, the two forms are the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE form. Some schools require one or both, others even add in their own form to further uncover any assets that could be tapped. The biggest difference between the two major forms is that PROFILE can be submitted in the fall, requires a minimum student contribution, costs $5 plus $18 for each school or scholarship program selected and asks more specific and detailed questions sometimes required by certain schools. By comparison, FAFSA cannot be submitted before Jan. 1, contains the same questions for everyone, has no minimum student contribution and is free. Each uses a different methodology for determining need.
Is your head spinning already? To stay ahead of the curve and get the heftiest financial package you're entitled to, consider these important deadlines, links and scholarship opportunities.
PROFILE Online is available starting Oct. 1 for those students who are applying early decision and early action. Search the PROFILE website to see which schools require the PROFILE and to research their priority filing dates.
Check college websites to see if your student's desired colleges require financial aid applications earlier than the typical deadline to boost your chances for merit- or need-based scholarships.
Request a Department of Education PIN. The PIN serves as an electronic signature for FAFSA on the Web and significantly reduces processing time.
If your son is 18 at the time of completing the FAFSA form, he'll need to register with Selective Service in order to be eligible for federal and state aid. Register through the FAFSA form or at the U.S. Post Office.
Review any early decision and early action responses. If your student is admitted to an early decision school and has applied for financial aid, he or she should also receive a financial aid award. Some schools require a written acceptance. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the award before making a final decision.
Prepare tax returns as soon as possible since income and asset figures from the returns are needed to complete the FAFSA. You don't need to submit your tax return to the IRS before submitting the FAFSA.