Step 1- Learn the language of financial aid and costs.
The Office of the United States Department of Education is a great starting place. The list of terms at https://studentaid.ed.gov/ glossary is massive. To get started with some of the most commonly used terms try:
Cost of Attendance (COA) –
The total amount it will cost you to go to school—usually stated as a yearly figure. COA includes tuition and fees; room and board (or a housing and food allowance); and allowances for books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and dependent care. It also includes miscellaneous and personal expenses, including an allowance for the rental or purchase of a personal computer; costs related to a disability; and reasonable costs for eligible study-abroad programs. For students attending less than half-time, the COA includes tuition and fees and an allowance for books, supplies, transportation, and dependent care expenses, and can also include room and board for up to three semesters or the equivalent at the institution. But no more than two of those semesters, or the equivalent, may be consecutive. Contact the financial aid administrator at the school you’re planning to attend if you have any unusual expenses that might affect your COA.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)-
This is the number that’s used to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid. This number results from the financial information you provide in your FAFSA® Your EFC is reported to you on your Student Aid Report (SAR). Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)- The FREE application used to apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, loans, and work-study.
Student Aid Report (SAR)-
A summary of the information you submitted on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You receive this report (often called the SAR) via e-mail a few days after your FAFSA has been processed or by mail within 7-10 days if you did not provide an e-mail address. If there are no corrections or additional information you must provide, the SAR will contain your EFC, which is the number that’s used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid.1
Step 2- Gather information about the actual costs of attending a college or university of your choice.
This information can be found on the college or university website often under costs of attendance or call the admissions or financial aid office. Remember costs will be more than just tuition but will include books, personal expenses, housing so it’s important to clarify when speaking with the college or university if the amount quoted is just tuition or all costs. Also look for the cost calculator on every college or university’s website or the calculator on Finaid.org, a free public service website, at http://www.finaid.org/calculators/finaidestimate.phtml.
Step 3- Apply for Financial Aid
Go to the Federal Government website to apply for all financial aid at https://fafsa.ed.gov/. Start by applying for a pin code well ahead of financial aid deadlines. A pin code is required to fill out the application for financial aid called FAFSA. Detailed instructions are available on the website. You should never have to pay to apply for financial aid. The FAFSA is free. Learning about financial aid and college costs can be overwhelming. Please feel to contact DegreesMatter at degreesmatter.org for assistance and information.
1-n.p., https://studentaid.ed.gov/glossary; Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education, Web, June 30, 2014.