FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid program is the largest provider of student aid. It funds more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study each year to more than 15 million college students. In order to be eligible for federal aid, and many state and local scholarships you must complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA website also offers an option called the FAFSA4caster where you provide basic financial information in order to estimate your eligibility for financial aid.
Please note that many colleges now require applicants to fill out the FASFA and/or the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE regardless of whether or not you are applying for financial aid
The 2017-18 FAFSA application opened three months earlier than in the past on October 1, 2016. This will again be the case for the 2018-19 FAFSA that you and your parents will complete (it is for the 2018-19 academic year). The FAFSA is also using prior, prior year tax information (2016) that can be directly imported through the use of what is known as the IRS data retrieval tool. It is in your best interest to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible to be considered for aid.
Useful (and legitimate) FAFSA Resources
You should avoid all FAFSA websites except the official www.fafsa.ed.gov sites. All others are fee sites that charge for various services It is not necessary to pay to complete or submit the FAFSA. It is manageable and free.
There are also very good tutorials on Youtube explaining how to complete the FAFSA forms. Search for How to complete the FAFSA. The best are offered by the UC system.
CSS (College Scholarship Service)/Financial Aid PROFILE
The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is an online application that collects financial information used by almost 400 colleges and scholarship programs to award financial aid from sources outside the federal government, including institutional scholarships, grants, and loans. The College Board will send your PROFILE to the colleges and scholarship programs that you designate. While not all colleges and scholarship programs require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, most highly selective schools do. The following Student Guide lists 2017-18 CSS schools.
The CSS/PROFILE collects detailed and comprehensive information on family income and assets of all types, whereas the FAFSA collects information on income and only limited types of assets. There are twice as many questions in the PROFILE as there are in the FAFSA.
The CSS/PROFILE is available in October and required by many schools at that timev(vs January 1st) It is therefore used by most schools with earlier decision plans. Another difference between the PROFILE and the FAFSA is that there is an application fee. This fee is $9.00 for current academic year applicants. Additionally there is a reporting fee of $16.00 for each college or university to which you send the PROFILE. Low income students may request fee waivers.