Financial Aid is awarded on the basis of the difference between expected family contribution and total college costs. The cost of attendance generally includes (a) tuition and fees, (b) room and board, (c) books and supplies, (d) transportation, and (e) personal expenses. Most financial aid is awarded according to need. Colleges gather information from families about their income and assets and determine what their share of the total costs should be.

Students who are juniors and their families interested in assessing their eligibility for federal student aid can access FAFSA4caster by visiting This free tool can instantly calculate an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), inform students of potential Pell Grant eligibility and reduce the time needed to complete the FAFSA.

Colleges rely on two basic methods to calculate the expected family contribution: Federal Methodology and Institutional Methodology.

Federal Methodology is a formula established by Congress to determine EFC and federal financial aid eligibility. The formula takes into consideration income, assets, expenses, family size and other factors to help evaluate a family’s financial strength. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA),, is the online form used in reporting the information that determines EFC under Federal Methodology. Students and families should file a FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st of the student’s senior year in high school. The longer a student and family wait to complete a FAFSA, the smaller the amount of federal aid is available.

Institutional Methodology is a formula established by some colleges and aid-granting programs to determine student aid for nonfederal aid (such as institutional scholarships and grants). Institutional Methodology takes home equity and other assets into account and includes a minimum expected contribution from most applicants. It also permits more generous treatment of medical/dental expenses, efforts to put money aside for education, emergencies and other special circumstances. In addition to completing the FAFSA, the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE,, is the online form used in reporting the information that determines EFC under Institutional Methodology. PROFILE uses the financial aid data provided by the family to determine who is eligible for a fee waiver. PROFILE fee waivers are available to entering dependent applicants from families with very low incomes and few assets. Students must also be a US citizen or eligible noncitizens. Generally, students who qualify for the federal reduced-price or free lunch program are also eligible for the PROFILE fee waiver. The fee waiver covers the cost of registration and up to six school or program reports.

If a student is considered an independent student, his/her parents’ finances are not taken into account by colleges. For these students, their ability to contribute to college costs is evaluated on the basis of their own income, assets and expenses. Special expenses such as child care may be considered by the college. On a limited basis, a student under age 24 can be treated as independent when there are unusual circumstances. In these cases, the student must provide documentation (usually including letters from clergy or from counseling agencies) to a financial aid administrator who may approve a “dependence override.”

For the “regular decision” admissions cycle, the aid application process starts in October. (Colleges that use the Early Decision or Early Action cycle may ask for documents to be completed the previous fall.)

October 1st (Senior Year)

Students begin completing the FAFSA ( and Institutional application forms. About 400 colleges also require students to file the PROFILE (

WARNING: is not a federally sponsored site. It is a web site that offers assistance in completion of the FAFSA to the tune of $79.99 and up.

February (Senior Year)

Many colleges have priority dates and deadlines this month, which is the date by which colleges need financial aid applications and any other necessary financial documents in order to award the most attractive aid package. After this date, funds may be limited or depleted, and students may not get as much aid as they need. The College Board’s Getting Financial Aid lists priority dates for each college.

Late February / Early March (Senior Year)

Colleges may call guidance counselors with questions about students in special circumstances.

End of March (Senior Year)

Admissions and financial aid notifications are mailed.

April (Senior Year)

Students weigh offers of admissions and compare aid awards.

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) developed an online Comparing Financial Aid Offers tool to aid families in the process of comparing financial aid award letters from various colleges. This tool can be found at

May 1st (Senior Year)

Students must tell all colleges yes or no and make deposits.

If students are unsure what financial aid forms are required by a college, they should contact the college or refer to the College Board’s Getting Financial Aid; this resource is available in the Guidance Department.

Colleges send out financial aid award letters in the spring. Students should carefully compare awards. What matters is the “bottom line” – the net cost to attend each college. Students and parents can use the Comparing Financial Aid Offers tool at

If one college’s aid package is much lower than the aid packages of other colleges, families should call the college’s Financial Aid Office and ask if there is additional information that may make a difference. Do not use the word “negotiate” when contacting financial aid personnel. Colleges store data in different ways, and they may have simply missed something important in the family’s financial picture.

Students in foster care are wards of the court and viewed as independent for federal financial aid purposes. These students will have no parent contributions to help pay for college costs. Most will qualify for the maximum Pell grant, state need grants and targeted college scholarships. In many states, the cost of college attendance at public institutions can be completely covered by these options. It is important that students in foster care and their advocates meet with a college financial aid counselor to identify additional financial aid options. A growing number of states have tuition waiver programs, targeted scholarships and other programs to assist students in going to college. To find out what Massachusetts offers, visit the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance.