College application season is often about more than just grades and test scores—with the high price of a college education, most families need to consider how best to take advantage of financial aid opportunities. With the vast array of college-sponsored and private scholarships available, and the differing application requirements among schools, navigating financial aid can be difficult. However, with a solid planning strategy in place, applying for financial aid can be a much more straightforward process.


When it comes to financial aid, not all colleges are created equal. State schools often have extensive financial aid programs geared to enabling in-state students to easily attend. Many schools also practice what’s called need-blind admissions, in which the school promises to meet the financial needs of incoming students and does not factor whether students will require financial support into their admissions decisions. Some schools even claim that they can guarantee all students accepted will graduate debt free—impressive!

Finally, many schools automatically consider all applicants for need-based and/or merit scholarships. Be certain to check the policies of the schools on your college list to be considered for all possible aid.


The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is perhaps the most important item in your toolbox. One of the very first steps in your financial aid planning process is to create a FAFSA ID online and begin your profile. Your online account can have both a FAFSA Parent and Student login. The form itself is relatively straightforward and makes you eligible for a wide variety of federal aid. Many federal aid programs are first come, first served, so it’s important to fill out your FAFSA well before the deadline—ideally, as soon as possible!


Applying for financial aid isn’t limited to your FAFSA application—there are plenty of other scholarships out there. Slightly lesser known than the FAFSA, but also important, is the CSS Profile, or the College Scholarship Service Profile. The CSS Profile is a private survey created by the College Board, and hundreds of schools use it to determine eligibility for various scholarships: need-based, merit-based, and extracurricular. While there is a fee to use the CSS Profile, it’s important to remember it covers a broader array of scholarship types and, unlike the FAFSA, is available to international students.


Every college applicant has a story, something that makes them unique—and, odds are, eligible to apply for a scholarship. In addition to large grant programs, both federal and private, there are hundreds of smaller, specialized scholarships, with sponsors ranging from alumni organizations and religious groups to social clubs and organizations supporting the arts and athletics. As you begin college applications, reflect on what your specialties are and search for scholarships particular to them or your local area.

While no one can guarantee the outcome of financial aid planning, putting a comprehensive strategy in place as you begin your applications will maximize your chance of scholarship success from as many sources as possible.

Need guidance as you navigate the world of financial aid and scholarships? Learn more about our College Advising services, and contact us!