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Financial Aid

My daughter and I went through the college application process together. Learn from my experience.

Updated Febuary 9, 2023

If you’re like me, you can’t believe that your child is old enough to be heading off to college. How did that happen?!!


It can be such an exciting time for your student – senior year, prom and graduation; and it can also be anxiety-provoking and stressful for the whole family when your kid is thinking about “what to do with the rest of my life.” I know this first-hand because my husband and I are going through this right now with our older daughter.


Where do you even begin?


Start by researching schools and finding ones that seem like a good fit – major, campus vibe, student size, etc. Since our daughter’s interest is in culinary arts, and only a limited number of schools offer this, major was the most important for us. She also feels more comfortable with a smaller student population. What’s important to you is different for everyone, so take some time and figure it out. Then, once you have your list, you’re almost ready to start applying.


Do this, before anything else


First things first, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can find it here: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa. This form is available each year starting on October 1st and helps determine how much financial aid you’ll be eligible for, given your individual situation. On the form, you’ll be asked to list the schools you’ll be applying to and list them in order of preference. I’m not going to lie – it definitely takes some time to get through it, but it’s important to do.  We didn’t think we’d be eligible, but still applied since the financial aid site encourages everyone to regardless of income. To our surprise, we received a small Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan.


The federal student aid website lists, in order to apply:


  • Student’s Social Security number (make sure to enter it correctly on the FAFSA form)
  • Parents’ Social Security numbers if you are a dependent student
  • Student’s driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • Student’s Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information, for you (and your spouse, if you are married), and for your parents if you are a dependent student:
    • IRS Form 1040
    • Foreign tax return or IRS Form 1040-NR
    • Tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau
    • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you, and for your parents if you are a dependent student
    • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student


Now it’s time to apply!


Once you’ve finished the FAFSA, give yourself a pat on the back and then start filling out applications. Some schools require you to fill out their own application on their website, while some schools (more than 1,000) use a single online college application called “The Common App”. You can get more information here: https://www.commonapp.org/. When it comes to transcripts and letters of recommendation, you can easily send an invitation to counselors and teachers so they may submit these forms on your behalf. According to the Common App website, you should gather the following materials:


  • A copy of your student’s high school transcript (or it can be sent in by a counselor via an invitation from the student)
  • A list of your student’s activities, work, and family responsibilities
  • Test scores and dates from your college entrance exams (SATs, ACTs, etc.)
  • Parent/Legal guardian information
  • Academic honors and achievements


Kudos to the Common App


One of my favorite things about the Common App is their dashboard that helps you track the important documents (like transcripts and letters of recommendation, and their statuses), as well as significant deadlines. We found this incredibly meaningful – knowing everything’s been submitted successfully (or not and you can address it).  I also love that you can see if a college has downloaded your application. It helps to know the application isn’t just dangling out there in the wind/cloud 😉 – instead, progress is being made!


The waiting game….


Then comes the hardest part… waiting.


Some schools have rolling admissions, which means you can receive a response pretty quickly, others have their own set dates of notification. We were fortunate that we found out from three schools (of five total) quickly because they had rolling admissions.


These were her top three choices, so we’re very excited! We’re still looking forward to hearing from the other ones too,  to see what kind of packages they’ll offer.


Still feels surreal when I think about her heading off to college soon. I have to say that this journey feels like many things in life – bittersweet. When she leaves, I’m going to miss her a lot, AND I’m also very happy for her and looking forward to all that she goes on to do.


Good luck to you and yours!