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6 Steps to Prepare for Financial Aid Applications

By: Stacy Yu

The cost of higher education continue to rise, making the need for financial aid necessary for many families.  There are many opportunities for financial through scholarships, grants, as well as private and public institutions.  Although identifying which scholarships may be applicable to you may seem like a daunting task, the effort can be less stressful through careful planning, research, and most importantly, starting early.

If you have a college-bound high school senior in your household, here are some recommendations on how to proceed with applying for financial aid.

  1. Begin at the Top

    When beginning your financial aid research, the best place to begin is with the federal government.  Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the country's largest supplier of financial aid for families in need of help.  All families in the U.S. can submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if they are eligible for federal aid.  Families should apply for FAFSA even if they believe that they are not eligible.  Many private scholarships require official notification from FSA stating your ineligibility for federal aid as part of their application process.  You may submit your FAFSA application at

  2. Contact the Schools You're Interested In

    Once your student has determined the schools to which they will be applying, contact each school's financial aid office. Find out what aid opportunities are available to you, and the requirements for eligibility.

  3. File Your Income Tax Early

    While this may seem irrelevant, the information from your income taxes will be required for the FAFSA application.  So file early.  The earlier you have your tax information, the earlier you can apply for FAFSA and other private loans.

  4. Apply for Scholarships Early

    Those who receive packages earlier in the process are more likely to receive better packages.  Therefore, apply early.  It is also wise to apply to many scholarships, as it increases your chances of receiving aid. 

  5. Have Gifted Checks Made Directly to the School

    If a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other private citizen is providing you with financial assistance, rather than giving you the check, have the checks written in your name directly to the school.  Doing so can help you avoid any gift tax liability.

  6. Research Scholarship Opportunities

    From athletics and robotics, to duct tape prom dresses, there are scholarships available for just about everything.  Sites like and are great resources for families to begin their search.

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