Back to Pay For College

Financial Aid Process

Applying for financial aid is a process. You need to complete multiple applications (see below), check your email and mail regularly for responses, provide additional information or verification if requested by a college, compare financial aid packages between schools, and make an informed choice about loans. Also, remember: you have to apply every year.


  • Is it worth taking out loans for college?

    It can be, but it depends on how much you borrow. Federal loans require that you fill out the FAFSA. Financial aid packages from different colleges include different total loan amounts. You will need to think about how much it is worth borrowing to go to a specific college. It may be that another college will require no loans or a much smaller amount in loans. 

    Not all loans are the same. Learn as much as you can to make a smart choice. A Perkins or Stafford loan subsidized by the federal government might have a much lower interest rate and better terms  that a private loan – meaning that in the end, you will pay a lot less even if you borrow the same amount. Also be sure you understand when you have to start paying the loan back. Some loans require you to start making payments right away while you are in school; others give you up until six months after you graduate to start paying.

    Whenever you borrow money, you have to decide if it is worth it. A college loan can be an excellent investment in your future. Borrowing a little now to earn a lot later can be the best investment you ever make. It’s an investment in you.

  • Can I ask for more Financial Aid?

    You can appeal to colleges for more financial aid. It won’t always produce more aid, but it is usually worth a try. Generally, colleges will consider you for more aid if you give them relevant family financial information they don’t already know through the FAFSA or other forms that indicates you have greater financial need. Before you ask for an appeal or reconsideration, think about the differences between your FAFSA and your actual situation. For example, did your parent lose a job? Did your parents get a divorce in the last year? Do you have significant health care or childcare costs? Colleges may ask you to put your appeal in writing.  Your counselor/adviser can help you draft an appeal letter that you will send to the financial aid officer assigned to you through the college. You can also ask for more aid during a face-to-face visit by sitting with the financial aid officer and explaining your situation. If you have a better package from another school, you should bring that award letter to help the financial aid officer think about how the school can better meet your needs.

  • I received Financial Aid last year. Do I have to apply again?

    Yes, you must submit a new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or a Renewal FAFSA for each new award year. This will also allow you to be considered for the TAP multi-year application process, so students who have received TAP in the previous year may not be required to submit a new electronic TAP application if they renew their FAFSA.

  • When is the FAFSA available?

    It is available January 1st of each year.

  • What is the priority filing deadline?

    The priority filing deadline varies by school but it is best to file by early February.

  • I’ve been “flagged for verification;” what does that mean?

    “Flagged for verification” generally means one or more of your answers on the FAFSA is incorrect, raises questions, or requires further explanation. Some students are also randomly flagged. Verification documents must be submitted to the financial aid office of the schools to which you applied.

  • What happens after I submit my application for financial aid?

    After you submit your FAFSA, it is processed and assessed by the federal government. From there, you will be issued a Student Aid Report (SAR). This report will also be accessible to the schools to which you applied. Each school that accepted you will send you a financial aid package informing you of how much aid it will provide. 

  • How do I determine which financial aid package is better?

    In order to understand which of your financial aid packages is best, you need to add up how much money each school is giving you in grants (such as Pell, TAP, scholarships and other “free” money you do not have to pay back), and how much in loans (Stafford, Perkins, Parent PLUS, etc…). You also need to look at how much of the cost of attendance is covered by your financial aid package. It may not cover the whole amount, which would mean you would have to take out more loans or pay out of pocket as you go to make up the difference. Basically, you want to choose the package that leaves you with the least amount of debt. Try using a financial aid comparison worksheet or talk your school counselor or a college access program in your neighborhood if you are confused.

  • This financial aid package letter is confusing – how much am I responsible for paying?

    The amount you are responsible for paying up front is equal to the total cost of attendance minus the financial aid they offer. This is also referred to as the “gap” amount. Remember, you are also responsible for paying back your loans.

  • When can I expect to get my financial aid award letters?

    You should be receiving your financial aid packages by March or April.

  • When do I have to accept a financial aid package?

    May 1st is the deadline for accepting your financial aid package. By accepting the package, you are making the decision that this is the school you will attend.

Recommended Resources

Options Application Companion to the FAFSA (with screenshots)

DOCUMENT  |  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important financial aid application; it is the main application for federal grants and loans as well the basis for both New York State and private college grants. All students eligible to file the FAFSA should do so, even if they don’t think they will receive federal aid. Many colleges use information from the FAFSA to allocate their own financial aid funds. This companion document has step-by-step directions, and screenshots of the application, to help you complete it correctly and on time. Ask an adviser about submitting the FAFSA  Read more  

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