How to Prepare to Apply for Financial Aid

Resources to help you pay for college.

As your senior year of high school approaches, it’s important to consider what’s next. If you plan to attend college, it’s time to get yourself ready, get your family involved, and set yourself up for success. Here are steps to take regarding financial aid and college costs:

Explore colleges and their different costs.

Start to build or strengthen a list of colleges you’re interested in applying to. Factors to consider when determining where you can be most successful as a student include major, location, campus life, and cost. Use the following tools to see what your options are:

  • College websites are where you can usually find the most up-to-date information about a specific college. Whenever you have questions about a college’s campus life, what majors they offer, or their costs, go to the college website first.
  • BigFuture is College Board’s college search engine. The cost information listed for each college may appear well beyond most applicants’ affordability. Still, this is a perfect starting point. It gets you thinking about the factors that go into adding a college to your college list.
  • College Scorecard is a website developed by the federal government that lists key statistics about each college such as graduation rates, average income for students who have attended, and average financial aid for students.
  • Net price calculators are tools on every college’s website that provide insight into how much financial aid you may be able to receive. Net price calculators give you a better idea of how much each college can provide in financial aid to decrease your costs.

Talk about college costs at home.

Discussing college costs with your family helps you learn how much financial help you’re able to receive from your family and what resources are available to help pay for college. It will also ensure that everyone is on the same page as you build your college list. Here are some questions to help get the conversation started.

  • Is your family knowledgeable about the cost of different colleges?
  • Can your family help pay for college?
  • Do you have a college savings account?
  • Do you and your family know how to complete the FAFSA®?

Having these conversations can help set you up for success when completing the financial aid process and prepare you to make your college decision.

Gather the information you'll need.

The financial aid process requires a significant amount of personal information. Gather that information in advance so that when it’s time to fill out the financial aid forms or submit extra documentation to the college, you have it available. Check to see if colleges on your list require financial aid applications beyond the FAFSA, such as the CSS Profile or additional institutional forms. Once you figure this out, collect tax forms, W-2s, and any other income information for you and your parents.

Start looking, planning, and applying for scholarships.

It’s never too early to start looking for scholarships . Most scholarships become available during your senior year of high school, but some are available during junior year or even earlier. Create a list of the scholarships you want to apply for and note when the applications will become available. Use scholarship search engines, talk to your school counselor, and look at what scholarships students at your high school have received in the past. Prepare for scholarship applications by creating a résumé of your accomplishments and identifying teachers or mentors who can write recommendations. By taking these steps, you’ll have a head start when it’s time to apply for the scholarships.

Considering affordability at the very beginning of your college journey will help you and your family prepare for the financial aid process and college costs. Remember, applying for financial aid is an essential step that can make college more affordable for you and your family.