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3 Major College Financial Aid Forms to Know

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine Livestream. You can watch the full Livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:


If you’re new to financial aid, you may not know where to start. Here’s a quick intro to financial aid, as well as the forms you’ll likely need to fill out.


Who Gets Financial Aid?


Financial Aid is need-based and available for all U.S. citizens enrolled in eligible degree and certificate programs at a U.S. college or career school. The amount of aid given will vary for each student based on the following factors: Expected Family Contribution (EFC), Dependency Status, Enrollment Status, and the school’s Cost of Attendance.


While financial need will vary from household to household, the belief that affluent families do not receive financial aid is a myth. The vast majority of families with household incomes between $110,000 and $250,000 per year actually receive financial aid from 49% of public universities and 53% of private universities.


If your household income is more than $250,000 a year, or if you have more than $1,000,000 in available assets, you are unlikely to receive Financial Aid. If you do not qualify for Financial Aid but still want to save money on college, try focusing on merit scholarships or universities that offer in-state tuition.


What are the 3 Major Financial Aid Forms?


When applying for Financial Aid, there are three major forms that you must submit to be eligible for aid: the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and State & Local Government applications. However, the two most important applications that must be completed are the FAFSA and the CSS profile. 


There are many similarities for the FAFSA and the CSS profile, including that both use the same formula to determine Expected Family Contribution (EFC). These applications require families to report a variety of information from the students and parents, which include familial dynamics and financial situations in order to determine EFC. Despite the similarities, there are very significant differences between all three Financial Aid application forms. 




The most known Financial Aid application form is the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the only Financial Aid application administered by the Federal government, and it is used to apply for federal Financial Aid at all U.S. institutions. 


FAFSA is used to determine the amount of federal aid (and often institutional aid) at most institutions that do not use the CSS profile. Families making less than $65,000 a year in household income are the primary recipients of federal aid, not including student loans. The two applications use the same EFC formula, but the FAFSA is more generous when calculating EFC than the CSS profile.


CSS Profile


The CSS profile is administered by the College Board. This is the same College Board that administers both the ACT and the AP exams. The CSS profile is much less common than the FAFSA as only 400 private colleges use it for institutional aid.


You will need the same documents used to complete the FAFSA. The CSS Profile and FAFSA review family dynamic and financial situations in vastly different manners. Whereas the FAFSA will primarily base dependency status and familial income on the primary parent, the CSS profile reviews and considers all available assets and income regardless of divorce status and current living situations. 


State & Local Government 


Finally, State and Local Government applications are necessary to distribute state aid. State aid is financial assistance offered to eligible residents to help reduce the cost of education. Each state has individual processing and funds for distributing aid, which consists of grants and scholarships. They are usually only applicable for use at public universities within your home state. 


Most states require that you complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form to receive aid, while other states require families to complete a separate application. Examples of state aid include The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), Access Missouri, and the CAL Grant Program. To maximize your eligibility for state aid, complete your FAFSA form early, as most state aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.


How Do Universities Keep my Financial Information Secure?


When completing financial aid applications, the most common concern is keeping your most valuable and secure information safe. While FAFSA is directly through the government, how do colleges and universities ensure the documents that you use to complete the CSS and verification forms remain secure and confidential? 


Many universities are now using the IDOC, which is a document storage tool dedicated to financial aid verification. With this platform, you will upload documents such as Parent W2s, Tax returns, and any additional supporting documentation for the valuation of your assets, investment accounts, and other financial means. Only selected students will be required to complete the IDOC as an additional Financial Aid application. IDOC is also a College Board platform, so students required to submit the additional documentation will be notified using their CSS profiles or directly by the college or university.

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