Applying for Financial Aid

The most crucial part of applying for financial aid is adhering to deadlines for each form.

All students and parents applying for aid at any public college or university will have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which comes from the Department of Education. The FAFSA can be filed as early as October 1. It will call for figures from the 2019 Tax Return, which parents should have available by the fall of 2020. The form is sent to a central processor who analyzes it and sends the results, called a needs analysis, to the colleges and scholarship programs that have been designated by the applicant.

Undocumented students will not be eligible for federal aid but will generally be eligible to receive private funds from the college. College financial aid offices will often guide undocumented students to an application process that mirrors their process for international students applying for financial aid. Applicants should feel comfortable requesting information about financial aid for undocumented students; most colleges will have thoughtful processes in place.

All students and parents applying for aid at California colleges or universities, public or private, should apply for California State Scholarships, commonly known as Cal Grants. Necessary information considered for a Cal Grant is included on the FAFSA. An additional form, the GPA Verification Form, is also required and will be available in the Deans’ Office in January.

Many families applying to private colleges will have to also file the CSS PROFILE, a customized financial aid form produced by the College Scholarship Service through the College Board. The PROFILE is tailored to reflect the specific requirements of the various colleges to which the student is applying and from which aid is being sought. There is a fee for the preliminary registration form in addition to a charge for each institution listed in a student’s PROFILE. You must check the college’s application materials to see if the PROFILE is required and when it must be submitted. Each college has its own deadline.

In addition to these standardized forms, some colleges still require short forms of their own, and some will request a certified copy of the most recent 1040 form. Again, each college has its own deadline. Make sure you know what it is for each college. Meeting deadlines is crucial; most colleges will not have aid available to families who are late with their paperwork.

Shortly after you submit your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) indicating your expected family contribution. The colleges that you designate will receive this information as well. They will use this information in combination with the data they collect from the PROFILE and/or their own forms to come up with a financial aid package. If you feel that any package is inappropriate, it is best to contact the financial aid administrator at the colleges directly. They will be interested in any supplemental data you may wish to provide. Letters explaining any unusual or special circumstances affecting the family's financial situation are welcomed by financial aid offices and should be sent directly to financial aid offices of the individual institutions.


Aside from the National Merit program and competitive scholarships sponsored by businesses and community service organizations, merit aid is generally awarded by an institution specifically for use at that institution. Merit aid might also be sponsored by a religious, ethnic, or professional group for students who belong to that religious or ethnic group or aspire to that profession. Some businesses also sponsor scholarships for the children of employees.

Students should inquire wherever they apply about merit scholarships. Alumni associations at the University of California campuses, for example, sponsor merit scholarships for which outstanding students can compete. Some excellent private colleges have merit scholarships for outstanding students. Students should inquire at their houses of worship and parents should inquire at their places of employment or in their civic groups about scholarships available from those sources.

There are several corporate and independent scholarships available by application. Many of these are listed at; this is a free service, sponsored by corporations advertising on the site, which allows students to find scholarships that match their individual profiles.

ROTC scholarships, only for use at colleges and universities with a ROTC program, cover tuition and books and provide an additional monthly stipend. Students interested in these scholarships should begin investigating them immediately.


  • Do not eliminate a college because you think it costs too much. Apply for admission and financial aid, and see what happens. Most colleges can meet the demonstrated need.

  • Keep copies of everything, including your FAFSA and PROFILE forms.

  • In April, if the financial aid package offered does not accurately reflect your family’s situation, it is possible to request reconsideration. Your dean can help you if you need to file a financial aid appeal.

  • Rely on your dean and on financial aid officers at the colleges to which you are applying rather than costly computer service organizations or scholarship/financial aid “experts” who solicit your business.

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