A Step-by-Step Guide To Application for College Assistance

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The following information has been compiled from materials provided by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Officers, the federal government, and other sources.

The Steps

1. The high-school counselor, often the first person the student contacts about financial aid, provides the required need-analysis documents and assists with the initial steps in the application process. Counselors also provide general information, explaining to the student, for example, filing deadlines and that there may be scholarships and loans available from private sources, including: community organizations, foundations, professional associations, corporations, and commercial lending institutions, religious organizations, and professional groups. The counselor should be aware that a student need not be admitted to an institution to apply for assistance.

2. The student contacts the postsecondary institution to obtain the appropriate institutional application and instructions for filing, including applicable deadlines. The student completes the application and returns it to the institution. The student also may be required to submit an application to a state agency in order to be considered for state aid. [This procedure varies from state to state. Some states offer a decentralized program that may be administered from centralized need-analysis services or the federal government's Pell Grant processing agent, and still other states have separate student-aid application forms.]

3. The student completes the forms. The accuracy of information provided by students is critical. Inaccurate completion of the form may cause delays that can reduce the student's chances to receive the maximum amount of assistance. Counselors and parents can help by ensuring that students do not file late and that they understand agreements made on any of the forms they sign.

Before filling out an application, it is helpful for parents to have their most recent U.S. Income Tax Return form on hand, since specific numbers from specific lines on the the return must be entered. Other useful records are W-2 forms and other records of money earned, current bank statements and mortgage information, and records of nontaxable income received from the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration, and other agencies. (If parents don't have information from the most recent tax return, they will have to estimate financial information and may have to prove the accuracy of the estimate before student is awarded aid. Also, they will have to change any figures that prove to be incorrect.)

4. Depending upon the need-analysis service used by the institution or state, the student and his or her parents complete the need-analysis forms and mail them to the appropriate processing agent. The state or postsecondary institution may utilize only the Pell Grant system, in which case the student completes a form called the Application for Federal Student Aid and mails it to the government's processing agent [a West Coast organization that analyzes federal financial-aid forms].

Other states and postsecondary institutions require the student to use the Financial Aid Form (faf) of the College Scholarship Service or the Family Financial Statement (f.f.s.) of the American College Testing program. [Pennsylvania residents are required to file the pheaa form of the Pennsylvania Higher-Education Assistance Agency and California residents must use the Student Aid Application for California (saac).]

On these forms, the student checks a box indicating whether he or she wants the information transmitted to the Pell Grant processing agent and/or to the state scholarship agency. It is extremely important that the student answer "yes" to the appropriate questions in order for the information to be transmitted.

The need-analysis services process the documents and return a copy of the analysis to the student.

. If a student applies for federal student aid, four to six weeks later the student will receive a Student Aid Report (sar). The sar reproduces information given on the application. Based on that information, the sar shows whether student is eligible for a Pell Grant. If student is eligible, the financial-aid administrator at the postsecondary institution can use the Student Aid Index number to determine the amount of the Pell Grant. Even if the student is ineligible for that, the administrator can use the sar to determine eligiblity for aid from the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, College Work-Study, and National Direct Student Loans programs.

. The state agencies to which financial information may have been sent notify the institutions of the student's eligibility for state funds. In the majority of states, the award notification is sent to the student as well.

. Once all the information has been received, the institution can determine the student's eligibility for aid from various programs, calculate his or her financial need, and develop an aid package. The institution notifies the student via an award letter which describes the aid the student will receive.

The Deadlines

March 15, 1983. Federal student-aid application or Special Condition Application must be received by this date.

May 5, 1983. Corrections to sar must be received by this date.

May 31, 1983, or the last day of student's enrollment in 1982-83, whichever comes first. Deadline for submitting the sar to the college financial-aid office--if the student enrolled before May 1.

June 15, 1983. Requests for duplicate sar's must be received by this date.

June 30, 1983, or student's last day of enrollment in 1982-83, whichever comes first. Deadlines for submitting sar to the college financial-aid office--if student enrolled for the first time in the award period (July 1, 1982-June 30, 1983) on or after May 1.

Additional Information

Counselors may obtain up to 25 free copies of "The Student Guide: Five Federal Financial Aid Programs, 1983-84" and counselors and students may obtain additional information about applying for Pell Grants, n.d.s.l., College Work-Study, or seog programs from Federal Student Financial Aid, Post Office Box 84, Washington, D.C. 20024.

The Federal Student Financial Aid Information Center has a toll-free number 800-638-6700 (or, for Maryland residents, 800-492-6602) to answer financial-aid questions that cannot be answered by counselors or by referring to available publications.

The Pell Grant Processor can be reached at (213) 820-2800 by students and counselors seeking information on whether Pell Grant applications have been received and processed. The address is Federal Student Aid Programs, at the post office boxes designated below, Los Angeles, Calif. 90009. Post office boxes for various departments are as follows:

DepartmentP.O. Box

History Corrections/Asset Revisions92842

Program Materials Distribution92833

ADS (Alternate Disbursement System)

Form 30492834

Form 304-192838

Inquiry Correspondence92836


Special Condition Application92831

Duplicates and Address Changes92832

Haven't Heards92832

The national financial-aid-officers' organization urges that these information resources be used prudently, since the Office of Student Financial Assistance will be able to maintain them only as long as their costs remain reasonable.

Additional Reading

Among the books explaining how to apply for financial aid that are commonly available in school libraries are: Applying for Financial Aid, published by the American College Testing Program; Meeting College Costs and the College Cost Book, 1982-83, published by the College Scholarship Service; and Don't Miss Out: The Ambitious Student's Guide to Scholarships and Loans, 1982-83 by Robert Leiter, published by Octameron Assoc.

Tips on Guidance Efforts

Some of the most successful ways to encourage awareness of financial-aid issues, according to Mr. Sciami of St. John's University and others, are these:

Help students learn to utilize available resources, including the library and nearby college financial-aid offices, to find information.

Encourage students, who tend to put off applications until the last minute, to plan ahead and prepare early.

Regularly distribute information on scholarship sources and deadlines to students.

Bring college officials to campus to talk to students and their parents.

Sponsor evenings in which students and their parents receive help in filling out application forms.

Provide a realistic picture of funding for federal financial-aid programs.

"Nowadays, it is just as important to let students know that there is aid available as what process one goes through to get that aid," Mr. Sciami says.

Vol. 02, Issue 06

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories