Financial Aid for College
For many families, financial aid is an important part of the college admissions process and is central to a student's final college choice. We recommend that parents/guardians and students start early to learn about applying for financial aid and the resources available to help students cover the cost of attending college.
Regardless of ability to pay, college is expensive. For many families financial aid is the determining factor in college decision-making. The financial aid application process should happen in tandem with the college application process, but research on how the financial process works may begin well before the senior year. Colleges and universities are available to help students and their families navigate each step, as is the Urban college office. Our goal as an office is to support families in being proactive and informed about the requirements and resources to access aid for college.
Financial Aid Resources
- Big Future/Pay For College
- Finaid is a good resource for information about loans, scholarships and other forms of aid.
- FAFSA 4caster to get an early start on the financial aid process.
- California Student Aid Commission information about Cal Grants and California student aid.
- Sallie Mae Loan Information
- 15 questions to ask a Financial Aid office
- Planning & Resources for Junior Families Presentation (Video)
Financial Aid Applications
All colleges will require the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA is available October 1. This should be filed no later than January 1 for best access to funds.
Many private colleges also require the CSS Profile. This is a two-step process that should be started early in the school year and completed about a week before the college’s deadline. A few colleges require their own institutional financial aid form.
In addition to the FAFSA, students applying for aid for schools in California are required to fill out the Cal Grant GPA Verification Form. This is a quick form that needs to be sent before March 2.
Each college’s website will list the exact forms required to apply for financial aid. Be sure to read the information from each individual college carefully to understand the college’s requirements and deadlines.
How does a college determine my family’s financial aid eligibility?
Most colleges award the largest percentage of their financial aid funding based on need. These funds includes institutional money as well as money from the government.
Need is assessed based on a family’s resources: current income, assets and ability to borrow. These determinations are made by families filling out specific forms. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the most common form that colleges use to determine the amount a family can pay for college. Many colleges also use the CSS Profile.
Please note: there are fake FAFSA sites online that will ask you to pay to complete the FAFSA.The FAFSA is ALWAYS free and the official FAFSA website ends in .gov.
Colleges use these indicators to determine the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for each student. After a family’s EFC is calculated, the college determines by what means (grants, loans, work study) to award student aid.
Families need to be proactive in reaching out to financial aid offices and looking closely and FA websites for each college. FA office professionals are eager to help applicants! Families with special or unusual circumstances should definitely discuss their situation with the financial aid office at each college. Using a Net Price Calculator is an excellent way to get an early sense the need-based funds for which your family may be eligible.
What are the different types of financial aid?
Need-based financial aid constitutes the major portion of assistance available for post-secondary education. Eligibility for need-based aid is determined by the difference between the cost of attendance and the Expected Family Contribution; the expected family contribution is a figure determined by government and institutional formulas.
Merit-based awards are generally given to students in recognition of special skills, talent and/or ability.
Merit scholarships may be given by either colleges or outside organizations. Some colleges automatically consider all applicants for merit awards regardless of financial need. Some require special additional applications.
If a student is interested in a merit scholarship we recommend looking into what awards are available at each institution.
Please note that you should never pay for assistance in finding merit scholarships. Please see this website’s Resources section for trustworthy sources of merit aid applications.
What is the timeline to apply for financial aid?
Please see the general timeline for the Urban college application process. While applying for financial aid doesn’t begin until Senior year, we do recommend families educate themselves about the nature of financial aid in college, which can differ greatly from how awards are determined for independent K-12 schools.
Financial Aid Resources
Big Future/Pay For College
Provides a very comprehensive overview of the Financial Aid application process, in addition to providing webinars and defining terms.
California Student Aid Commission
Information about Cal Grants and California student aid
15 questions to ask a Financial Aid office
Shows the estimated cost of attendance, after financial aid is taken into consideration.
Net Price Calculator
By federal law, every college is required to have a Net Price Calculator on their website. This tool can help determine your family’s eligibility for need-based aid.
Planning & Resources for Junior Families Presentation (PPT) & presentation audio
Provides an early estimate of your family’s eligibility for federal student aid
Provides general financial aid information and gives an overview of both need-based and merit-based aid.
Access the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at this website. Please note that the FAFSA is free, and if the website asks you to pay, that is not the correct website!
Very helpful website and also includes a link to the CSS Profiles, which is an additional Financial Aid application required by some colleges.
A financial aid search service with a large database of private scholarships.
free scholarship matching service. Students create a personalized profile that can be matched against its expansive database of scholarships.