FAFSA: A critical piece of the college financing puzzle

If your child is determined to go to an Ivy League school, don't despair. Following Princeton's lead in 2001, all of the Ivies -- Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania -- have adopted "need-blind" acceptance and most offer grants (which do not have to be paid back) instead of loans to qualified students.

Next steps

A bit of a waiting game goes on during this whole process. First you wait a few weeks for that SAR to arrive. Then you wait a few more weeks for those acceptance letters and the financial aid awards to trickle in.

All candidates should receive an admissions notification by around April 1 and financial aid packages by mid-April. Most schools give applicants until May 1 to select a school. Students should make use of this down time to seek out and apply for scholarships.

Experts point out that while SAR reports may make parents sweat a bit, it's the financial aid notices that throw some families into an all-out panic.

The good news is that you do have a little bit of leverage if your teen has been accepted at a number of schools. You may be able to negotiate a better aid package by mentioning to School A all that School B is willing to do for you.

PROFILE alternative

Another financial aid application is called PROFILE. It's a service of the College Board, a not-for-profit membership association whose stated mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. The College Board comprises more than 5,000 schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations, and each year serves more than 7 million students and their parents.

Around 600 colleges, universities, professional schools and scholarship programs use the PROFILE form as an application for nonfederal student aid. If you're applying to one of the schools or scholarship programs that use the PROFILE application, you should register online.

There's a $9 registration fee, plus a $16 fee for every college or program you want to send it to.


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