College Aid Topics

Planning for Aid

It is never too early to plan for financial aid. The biggest mistake families make is waiting to apply for financial AFTER being accepted by the colleges. 

Always file for financial aid. If you do not file you will not even qualify for the student loan program. 

Know all the forms needed and their deadline dates. 

File early. Waiting until you complete your tax return can cost you lost financial aid money. 

Learn what your Expected Family Contribution and how it is calculated. 

Do not spend a lot of time and money searching for outside scholarship money. 

Learn which financial strategies can increase your grant and scholarship money. 

Contact the College Aid Specialist immediately for a free consultation. Call:


The Basics of Financial Aid

  • Shared cost 
    Because college is so expensive, the cost is shared by family members, students, government aid programs, and institutional aid 

  • Aid Categories 
    Loans must be repaid. Scholarships and grants don’t need to be repaid. Military aid requires the student to commit to service time. Work-study awards enable a student to earn money for books and living expenses. 

  • Meeting the need 
    What is your family’s aid eligibility? Your eligibility for aid is the same amount as what the formulas have calculated as your "need" for aid. It is the difference between the college’s total Cost of Attendance and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Families with college bound students should calculate their EFC as soon as possible. Sometimes, with proper planning a family can lower its EFC. 

  • Self-help 
    The portion of the package that consists of the student’s loans and work-study job allotment is self-help. 

  • Need and merit 
    Federal aid and most private aid are based on financial need. Aid that is not based on financial need is known as "merit" aid. It is used to attract students that college admissions officers hope to enroll. 

  • FM and IM 
    There are two ways that a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and aid eligibility is calculated. The first is FM, Federal Methodology, which is used to award federal (and sometimes state) funds. The aid application form for FM is the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Financial Aid). The second method for calculating EFC and aid eligibility is IM, Institutional Methodology, which is used to award non-federal aid dollars. Schools that supplement federal aid with their own private institutional (IM) aid money look at additional income and asset information, including home equity. Many colleges that use IM require the PROFILE aid application form and/or may require their own institutional aid application form. 

  • Time considerations 
    Aid formulas look at income from the calendar year prior to the year for which aid is requested. Each income year is a base year for the next year’s aid. Under some circumstances (illness, death, retirement, unemployment, etc.) income from the current calendar year may be substituted. Assets are reported as of the date that the application form is filed.

Tips on Financial Aid

The biggest mistake families make is not planning for college financial aid. The cost of college may be the next largest expense in your life after your home. Filing late, missing deadlines, or not filing the proper forms is another common mistake. Many people mistakenly believe they don’t qualify so they don’t file. If you do not file for financial aid you will not even qualify for a student loan. 

File on time. If you file past the school’s deadline you will lose aid and if you wait to complete financial aid forms after you complete your current tax returns, you may miss the deadline. 

Know which forms are needed. All college financial aid programs require the completion of the FAFSA form and some private colleges require a CSS Profile form. Some schools may require a business/farm supplement and others require divorced/separated forms. New York residents should complete the TAP application. 

Calculate your EFC. EFC is your expected family contribution. It is determined by the information reported on the FAFSA and the CSS Profile. To find out your aid eligibility subtract the EFC from the cost of attendance of the college. 

Two in college? Learn why it may be a big advantage to having more than one child in college.

Don’t Miss the Money
People who file by themselves, or let the students file for aid, frequently make costly informational or arithmetic mistakes. These mistakes cost thousands of dollars. The College Aid Specialist’s proven system has helped thousands of families receive the maximum financial aid packages.

Tip Financial Aid Terms

Base Year
Each time that you apply for aid, income from the preceding calendar year will be used in calculations of your aid eligibility. These are your "Base Years" for financial aid. The first base year is most important because it sets the stage for following years.

Cost of Attendance (COA)
Each college uses a standard COA figure to calculate aid packages. It includes tuition, fees, room and board (housing and food), books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses.

Eligibility for Aid ("Need")
The Cost of Attendance minus the Expected Family Contribution is the amount of Eligibility for Aid ("Need"). If an aid package doesn’t meet the entire amount of Eligibility for Aid, there is an aid Gap. At some colleges, financial aid is based only on "Need." Other colleges offer both merit aid and need-based aid. 

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Aid formulas analyze income and assets to determine how many dollars each family must contribute towards college costs. If the student is dependent, the EFC includes the Parents’ Contribution and the Student Contribution.

Federal Methodology (FM)
Congressional aid formulas, known as FM, change each year. They determine EFC for the purpose of allocating federal aid funds at public and private colleges. At most public colleges, federal and state funds are the major source of aid. Applicants must fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.

When an aid award does not meet the full amount of calculated Eligibility for Aid, there is an aid Gap. Educational expenses will be at least as high as Expected Family Contribution (EFC) plus any Gap. Student and parent loans are available to cover EFC and any Gap. 

Institutional Methodology (IM)
IM formulas determine EFC for awarding private institutional aid funds at private (and some public) colleges. Different schools may use different IM formulas. Applicants complete a college form and/or the PROFILE form, as well as the FAFSA.

Merit Aid
Merit aid is based on the student’s attributes, not on financial need. Another name for merit aid is "non-need" aid. 

Professional Judgment (PJ)
Aid administrators have the ability to make decisions based on special circumstances. ’

Aid packages enable students to "help themselves" through student loans and work-study jobs.


Financial Aid Myths

It is a myth that financial aid is only loans. 
The fact is many of our clients qualify for over $35,000 annually in grant and scholarship money.

It is a myth that state schools are always your best financial choice. 
In fact, SUNY schools are projecting a cost of attendance of over $25,000. Many of our clients with financial aid pay less money for private colleges than they would for state schools.

It is a myth that only "smart" people get grant and scholarship money. 
The fact is that most colleges award grant and scholarship money based on financial need. 

It is a myth that high school guidance counselors will help your family maximize your financial aid. 
Most guidance counselors are not familiar with financial aid formulas and are not qualified financial planners.