The college financial aid process is arguably one of the most daunting tasks of college planning. In reality, it’s not necessarily that the financial aid process itself is an enormous challenge, but failing to plan, position yourself and prepare for it, certainly can make things tough. 

While the financial aid process begins with the opening of FAFSA applications on October 1, we recommend considering, planning and preparing for it much sooner to not only make the process much easier but to also give you the greatest chance of ensuring all of the aid you can obtain. 

Planning and Positioning for the Financial Aid Process

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Planning and positioning yourself for success through the financial aid process encompasses a few things. 

Starting early: Don’t wait until October 1 of your student’s senior year to begin looking over your assets, determining what your financial contribution can be as a parent, and looking at what your EFC or estimated family contribution might be. In case you’re not familiar with this term,  According to FAFSA, the EFC:

“EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula. Also considered are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year.”

The window of opportunity to maximize financial aid positioning begins much earlier than most people think. Since it requires consideration of income and assets over two previous years, the financial aid clock begins on Jan 1st of the sophomore year in high school. While there are plenty of strategies and ways to increase aid even after Jan 1st of sophomore year if you really want to get every penny you deserve and more, we recommend getting started ASAP from a planning perspective and certainly during the student’s 8/9th-grade year of school.

Planning and positioning aren’t just about the actual financial piece though. It also encompasses….

College choice: By the time the financial aid process begins, your student will be in their senior year. Now that the application process begins on October 1, your student will need to have a solidified college list. It’s important to have that by at least August / September of a student’s senior year, to be able to maximize your financial aid applications in October. You’ll want to have a list ready so that you can add the school names to your FAFSA, CSS Profile, and Consensus (depending on what the school requires) to be sent off to those respective schools. We recommend a list of 5-10. Having the list of colleges as soon as possible to make planning and positioning much easier.

Preparing for the Financial Aid Process 

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork to begin the financial aid process, it’s time to prepare to actually begin applications, paperwork and submitting different documents. 

Some of the main applications and documents you’ll be filling out are the FAFSA or the CSS profile. We’ll be going into detail more on these over the next couple of weeks. But, the prep work for both of these as well as other financial aid forms starts with a couple of things: 

Gathering the right documents together. 


Creating your FSA ID. 

Anything that relates to income, such as Tax Returns, W2’s, as well as assets, like a savings account, equities, and other holdings.  Be prepared with these documents ahead of time, so you’re not scrambling to find them during the financial aid process. 

FSA ID’s must be created for each parent and each college-bound student must have their own unique ID. You can learn more about the process as well as getting some of our insights here. 

Next week, we’ll be digging into everything you need to know about the FAFSA, CSS Profile and the nitty-gritty of the financial aid process. This is extremely important because 80-83% of all college-bound students’ financial aid forms are either submitted are incorrect or the FAFSA is not submitted at all. If you’d like to avoid the hassle altogether, schedule a complimentary consultation to learn more about having your financial aid forms prepared for you…sort of like a CPA does for your taxes.

Have questions about financial aid, completing forms (FAFSA/CSS Profile) or the college process in general? You can sign up for a complimentary 1-1 session. Get answers to your most pressing questions, discuss your unique situation, and how to get every penny of free college money possible.