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As your child starts their search for the “perfect” college, the question of “how are we going to pay for it?” should be front and center in everyone’s mind.  Financial aid is a key factor in the college application process and it’s important to know that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) filing season is now upon us.  The sooner you file your FAFSA, the better since some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis or from programs with limited funds. Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial assistance, however if you wait, there may be less money available so your aid may be in the form of more loans and less grant.  


Here are some other helpful tips to guide you through the process of figuring out just how much school you can afford.


  1.  Calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  See and search “EFC Calculator.” This is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a law-established formula.  It takes into account your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits and uses your most recent tax returns as of the day you file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and/or CSS Profile ( You can then use this information to estimate potential aid from schools.
  2. Use College Navigator ( to search for schools.  You can compile a comprehensive list based on your student’s criteria (location, scores, majors offered, net price, etc.).  
  3. Use your EFC to estimate need-based aid.  Once your child has a preliminary set of schools, you can research the total cost and the estimated aid they can expect to receive by looking at the College Board’s website under each school’s “Paying” and “Financial Aid by the Numbers” tabs.  You can also use the net price calculator for each school which takes into account more in-depth information.  
  4. There is also the option of merit-based aid, but this should be researched for each school.  Not every school offers merit-based aid and for those that do, some are dependent on need, may apply to in-state students only or could be contingent on strict academic requirements.   


These steps can assist you in navigating the college search process and can help ensure that the schools your child is applying to are financially feasible.  Even though most students are likely to graduate with some student loan debt after college, including financial aid research in their initial college search can be a helpful tool in minimizing these loans and after-college debt.  For help with college financial planning, please email us or schedule a free 30 minute introductory call.  

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