As an Independent Educational Consultant, I help students through the maze that college admissions has become. I assist families with pretty much every part of the process with just a few exceptions. One is need-based Financial Aid. I can give families an overview but I am not an expert in this area and therefore do not include this as part of my services. I leave this to the families to do–it is time consuming but not difficult. If you need help, I suggest you ask your financial planner or accountant. I strongly suggest that you do not pay someone to do this for you, especially anyone who claims they can find you aid that could not be found without their help.
To apply for need based financial aid, families begin with the FAFSA–the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The website for this is http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. This is a government site and this is free. I emphasize this point because there are other websites with FAFSA in the name but they are not the correct site and may charge a fee. Be sure you are on the U.S. government website.
The NY Times’ “The Choice” blog has just run a series about Financial Aid where parents and students have submitted their questions to Mark Kantrowitz, whom they describe as “an expert on paying for college and the founder of FinAid.org,”. If you are knee deep in financial aid forms right now, this may be of help.
In addition to the FAFSA, many private colleges also require families to fill out the CSS PROFILE and/or their own institutional form. These forms will address income and assets and information not included in FAFSA.
Be sure you know the forms required for each college your student is applying to and their deadlines. If you have special circumstances–such as a recent change in your financial situation– call the colleges directly and speak to their Financial Aid office and see if you can provide them with additional information and possibly documentation.