2015 Guide to FAFSA

Figuring out the real cost of college is tricky, given the variety of factors that can impact a family's EFC (expected family contribution). This comprehensive financial aid guide from Forbes offers an easy-to-understand chart that can help clear up the confusion. Check it out!

This comprehensive guide to college financial aid, updated for 2015 with new insights and tips, will help you estimate how much your family will be expected to contribute toward the cost of college and gain a clear understanding of how the college financial aid system works with straight-forward explanations of expected family contribution, need-based financial aid, merit aid, the FAFSA and CSS Profile college aid forms, the Federal Methodology, Institutional Methodology and the Consensus Methodology of calculating EFC.

Applying for College Financial Aid

The process of applying for need-based financial aid for college begins by students and parents completing one or two financial aid forms, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and/or the CSS Profile. Any college or university that awards federal student aid must require that students complete the FAFSA in order to determine eligibility for federal aid (it works for most state aid too). Most colleges and universities nationwide use the FAFSA as their sole application for need-based financial aid, so students applying for aid at those colleges only need to complete the FAFSA. However, there are about 200 colleges which require that the CSS Profile also be completed in addition to the FAFSA. Those colleges use the CSS profile to assess the student’s eligibility for the college’s own institutional aid dollars.