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How do I apply for financial aid?

You should start by filling out the federal government's aid application--the FAFSA. This application is used by both the federal government and colleges when federal money is being dispersed.

You can obtain a paper FAFSA at your child's high school guidance office, or an on-line version at the Department of Education's website (see below). The earliest date you can file the FAFSA is January 1 of the year your child will be attending college. This is because the FAFSA relies on your family's tax information from the previous year.

To complete the application, follow the instructions in the FAFSA carefully. You may need to gather several documents to complete the FAFSA, similar to preparing your tax return.

Once the information is filled in, a FAFSA can be filed in one of four ways

  • Mailing it to the regional processing center listed on the paper FAFSA
  • Filing it electronically through the college your child will be attending (not all colleges have this capability)
  • Filing it electronically using the U.S. Department of Education's FAFSA Express software, which can be downloaded from the Department of Education's website (www.ed.gov)
  • Filing it electronically by filling out the FAFSA directly on the Department of Education's website (www.fafsa.ed.gov)

Paper FAFSAs take approximately four to six weeks to process; electronic FAFSAs take one week.

Regarding college financial aid, colleges use either their own institutional application or a common type of application known as the PROFILE application. The PROFILE application may duplicate some of the questions on the FAFSA. You will need to find out which application your child's college requires and then submit it by the deadline.