You’re poised to start the next phase of your education, and you know college is a big expense, but you’re starting to get confused. What’s a COA? And how does the EFC on your SAR impact your eligibility for funding through FFEL or FSEOG (Confused? Don’t worry, we’re here to help—see the list of terms at the end of this article for helpful definitions).
The financial aid process is complicated, and the best way to learn is to start with an overview of the key steps. Use the timeline below for guidance.
From September-December, you should:
- Narrow your college choices down to several finalists and collect cost information from each school.
- Gather information about scholarships offered at the colleges on your short list and note any you might qualify for.
- Research scholarship opportunities with community organizations in your hometown.
- Go online to find more sources of funding; try www.fastweb.com or www.finaid.org.
- Attend financial aid workshops wherever available.
- Apply for college scholarships and grants and investigate student loans.
- Request a Personal Identification Number (PIN) online at www.pin.ed.gov. You’ll need your PIN to file the FAFSA (more on that below) electronically.
In January and February, you should:
- File the FAFSA and other required forms; you can fill out the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
- Receive and review your Student Aid Report (SAR).
- Complete any essays required to apply for financial aid offered through your university.
- Submit corrections to the FAFSA if needed once tax forms are complete.
In March and April, you should:
- Contact the financial aid offices of the schools you applied to and ask if all materials have been received; send any outstanding materials in promptly.
- Review financial aid packages; they’ll look something like this:
In May and June, you should:
- Accept and return the financial aid package from the school you’ve chosen.
- File the Master Promissory Note if taking out Stafford Loans.
- Contact the financial aid office to determine the details of any work-study arrangements, if necessary.
Terms You Need to Know
There are a lot of big terms in college financial aid, and you’ll need to learn the acronyms that represent these big concepts. Here are a few to get you started:
COA: Cost of Attendance, the total cost of one year’s education, including tuition, room, board, books, and fees.
EFC: Expected Family Contribution, a dollar amount determined by the information you provide on the FAFSA—this is the amount your family is expected to be able to pay out of pocket for college expenses.
SAR: Student Aid Report, the report you get after filing the FAFSA that includes your EFC.
FFEL: Federal Family Education Loan, one of two loan programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Funds for FFEL come from banks, credit unions, and other lenders, not the federal government.
FSEOG: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a grant program for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.