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After the FAFSA: What Happens Next?

The next step in finding college financial aid


You've filled out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Now what? The federal Department of Education will review your numbers and figure out how much you can be expected to pay for your child's college education. You'll be able to access that document directly from a FAFSA web page. And sorry to say, you’re not going to like that number at all. “That explains a lot,” you will think, “about how the government fails to balance its budget every year, because I can't possibly pay that and balance mine."

Don't lose hope. Your EFC is not the sum your family will actually pay for college. It's the number your child's university uses to figure out how much federal money it can use in your financial aid package.

You've probably heard the old dictum that students shouldn't automatically rule out private colleges based on price, that private schools have access to financial aid dollars that public schools don't, and that your aunt's hairdresser's nephew paid less for his private education than the average public university tab. This is where those EFC figures come into play, because private schools have scholarship endowment funds that may kick in where federal or state grants fall short.

So, again: Don't despair. FAFSA is merely the first hurdle in a multiple step process. So fill out each college's financial aid forms and submit them. Apply for state grants. Encourage your child to pursue other college scholarship possibilities through his high school college counselor or web sites such as FastWeb.com, a clearinghouse for scholarship announcements. Just stay the course until the financial aid offer comes from the college.

Your child’s financial aid offer usually comes along with, or soon after, the acceptance letter. It may include scholarships for a high grade point average, or for sports, music or arts prowess. If this is a private school, it will also likely include a student loan offer that could knock several thousand dollars off the annual tab.

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