Pretty soon, just as you think about filing taxes, college financial aid forms will be due. Most of the states have a first come first serve basis, so the earlier the better. Be sure to check out a past post I wrote on financial aid dates. But one of the most challenging things about financial aid is not really understanding it and how it all works. I wouldn’t worry about it. If you go through the process of financial aid at any school, the process is generally the same.

But, what do all these terms mean, and how can I best understand the process and why and how to get more money to pay for college…are typical questions asked by anyone…students and parents. Most people applying within North America will file forms through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) @

Here are some of the basics you should know when it comes to financial aid, general aid (money) for college and terminology you should know what it means. This is a list I came up with and remains pretty consistent whether you’re looking at vocational, public, private or community college.

FINANCIAL AID:       There are two types:

Gift Aid:    Grants and Scholarships

Self-help Aid:    Loans  and  Employment

Most colleges and financial aid departments refer to two things that you should know regarding general financing:

  •     COA- Means Cost of Attendance the COMPLETE amount it costs to attend college

The cost of attendance covers HARD COSTS and SOFT COSTS. HARD COSTS are those things like tuition and room and board. SOFT COSTS are those things like books & supplies, transportation, laundry, and other living expenses (just to name a few).

**When asking a college about costs, most admissions people will provide you with the tuition and room and board. B, there are many other fees involved with attending many colleges and you should ask about those additional costs. Ask Financial Aid about the costs. They should lay everything out for you.

  •     EFC- Means Estimated Family ContributionThe minimum amount a family if expected to pay.

This is based on…

Student Income- how much money does the student have in savings, and make from work (filed taxes)

Parent Income- how much do parents make. Both parents, and what do they claim on taxes is how you can find out how much they have to claim with FAFSA.

Student Assets- does the student own anything that could be used as a financial asset? Property or homes

Parent Assets- same thing as with students, but with parents here.

# of household members- the larger the family, the more opportunity you might have. This also helps with estimated family contribution. The larger the family, the less you would be able to contribute toward college, and thus may get more money for college.

# of household members attending college- this is the same idea, especially if there are 2 or more in college at the same time.

  • Financial need is figured out when subtracting your cost of attendance to go to college minus the estimated family contribution: EFC – COA = Money needed when applying to FAFSA.

Use a college cost estimator at CollegeBoard or CollegeAnswer to figure out what it would cost.


Outside scholarships             State Grants

Employers                                Federal Grants

College Scholarships              College Savings Plan

GI Bill                                         Loans (private and government)


1. Financial Aid meeting with FA Advisor at chosen college file necessary FAFSA forms electronically @ Create a Pin Number and keep it.

2. Institutional Forms (college specific)

3. CSS Profile Form– this is required from some colleges. If they indicate this, don’t be nervous. It’s required by some states to have an additional profile. **This might or might not affect amount of aid.

A good piece of advice…

and effective thing you can do throughout your financial aid application process is to keep in touch with your Financial Aid Advisor. Don’t call them too much, call them to ask questions, discuss concerns, etc. They are there to help and financial aid will give you a straight answer. They have to.

This is a small list of the best basics you need for starting your financial aid process. Please respond back to me @ this post with further questions, concerns or comments you have regarding this topic.

I would love to continue a dialog so that I can provide a resource for all of you to attain all the needed information when it comes to financing a college education.

Your Success is My Success,

Keith Lipke

I’m a careers and college recruiter, coach, public speaker and leader at The Career Closet. His passion is to educate, inspire, and give hope to young people who need it upon their search for the right career and college

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