Financial Aid


Financial Aid typically refers to funding that originates from the Federal government, your State government and specific institutional funds that are awarded based on demonstrated need. To start off, here is a glossary of terms used throughout the financial aid process. For an introduction to the world of Financial Aid, read this primer on Paying for College

How to Apply

Applying for Need-Based Federal Financial Aid involves filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Families are encouraged to complete the FAFSA Form which is both faster, easier, and more accurate that filling it out on paper. After processing by the federal government, families will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which will summarize the family’s financial information and give the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) figure. The results are forwarded to all colleges listed by the student when the FAFSA is initially submitted.  File the FAFSA as soon after October 1 of Senior year as possible. 

It is important to contact each college’s financial aid office to verify which forms are required and when the college’s priority deadline is for filing!

Other Financial Aid forms
Some private colleges require an additional Financial Aid form called the CSS PROFILEYou can submit it usually beginning in early October and will need to know the private colleges to which you expect to apply. The CSS Profile is a customized form that requests pertinent financial information as required by each member college which is then used to award non federal student aid. The CSS Profile costs $25 which includes the initial registration plus the completed analysis sent to one college; for each additional college there is a $16 fee. Fee waivers are available through the College Counseling office.

Odds and Ends:

  • FAFSA Form 
  • To estimate your Expected Family Contribution NOW, go to Federal Student Aid Estimator.
  • Apply to one to two colleges where you will be in the top 25% of the students academically
  • Identify colleges that award merit based aid versus those that only award need based. Colleges that guarantee to meet 100% of need are also frequently "need blind" which means the admission decision process is kept separate from the consideration of a financial aid package. Here's another list of "generous schoolsin terms of Financial Aid. And review this list of schools that offer in-state tuition to Out of State students, the criteria for which is often based on academic standing, including your test scores.
  • File the FAFSA regardless of your family’s relative “wealth.” Colleges have a greater latitude awarding institutional funds but will want to first verify that your family doesn’t qualify for federal dollars.
Filing an Appeal 
If a financial aid award falls short of what you were hoping, it is possible to file an appeal. Some suggestions to consider before making that phone call:
  • Be realistic about your need. Show legitimate reasons of why the school overestimated how much your family can afford (such as recent pay cuts or increased medical expenses).
  • Timing your request can be important. Filing your appeal with your first choice school in mid-April may result in more funds especially if the college's commitment numbers are down.
  • If you have improved your academic profile (grades, test scores) make sure you have informed those colleges who award merit scholarships based on those criteria.
  • If the financial aid award continues to fall short, students should contact the college and politely decline the offer of admission with an explanation of the reason. Some schools who don't fill their class will contact students after May 1st and have additional funding to offer.


The College Opportunity Trust Fund (COF), created by the Colorado Legislature, provides a stipend to eligible undergraduate students that helps defray the cost of in-state tuition when you attend a Colorado public institution or a participating private institution. The stipend is paid on a per credit hour directly to the institution at which the student is enrolled. The credit-hour amount is set annually by the General Assembly.

The Bottom Line

As you create your college list, it's important to include colleges that have a range of total costs. Financial Aid packages are an individual process and you will not know your "bottom line" until sometime in April of your senior year. However, it's possible to learn more about a college's affordability by using the Net Price Calculator tool, found on each college's website if the school participates in Title IV federal student aid programs. The net price calculator uses institutional data to provide net price information to prospective students and their families based on a student's individual circumstances.

However, not all Net Price Calculators use the same software and the results need to be considered as a broad estimate of a student and family's net price. For more information about Net Price Calculators, take a look at this article from U.S. News, "10 Things You Need to Know about Net Price Calculators."

Financial Aid Calculators can help you calculate multiple aspects of your Financial AId picture in addition to the college costs. Try out the calculators to compare possible loans; calculate loan repayments; evaluate college savings as well as your EFC.

Recommended Websites for Further Research

Federal Student Aid  This is a comprehensive resource on financial aid published by the US Department of Education.

FinAid A place to start for in-depth information about current practices and policies. Access a list of strategies for maximizing your eligibility for need-based financial aid or a list of schools that offer financial aid packages without loans for those who demonstrate high financial need.

College Affordability and Transparency Center Research which colleges have the highest and lowest tuition and net prices at this U.S. Department of Education website

College Data In addition to a college search tool, College Data is an efficient site to explore a college's tuition, average financial aid award, average debt at graduation, and net price calculators.

Comparing Your Financial Aid Awards A tool to help you interpret your Financial Aid packages to make sure you understand your "bottom line" which will include how much debt you're incurring. Use this tool to understand how all those numbers impact your payments down the road. It will also give you useful information about each school's graduation rate, loan default rate, median amount the current students are borrowing as well as what your monthly payments might look like after you graduate.

529 Plans If you have some time before you're heading off to college, consider investing in your future now!

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