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.