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calculating college costs: plan for FAFSA & CSS Profile

Attending college is expensive, even if your family has built a nest egg or a 529 account. Becoming familiar with "College Financial Aid" terminology and utilizing tools like the Federal Student Aid Estimator can make estimating college costs easier, clarify if you qualify for need-based financial aid, and help prioritize which colleges should be on your college list. It will also help you prepare to complete each form, FAFSA, and CSS Profile and gather the relevant information and documents.

Understanding financial aid terminology and utilizing tools like the Net Price Calculator, which can be found on each college's website, will help you find answers to your financial need questions and help you assess if an Early Decision application path is viable and the right plan for you. It will also help prepare you for the FAFSA process, which typically opens on October 1st but, in 2023, had a soft launch in late December due to the long-anticipated updates to simplify the process.

If you have a senior applying Early Action or Early Decision to a school that participates in or requires the CSS Profile, you will want to know the submission deadlines. Deadlines will be located on each school's website.

Additionally, you will want to know the deadlines for completing the FAFSA® Application Deadlines for your state, which can be found here.

These articles and questions will help you get started.

  1. Will I qualify for financial aid – either need-based or merit aid?

  2. What is the difference between need-based and merit aid?

  3. Can merit aid bring the cost of attending college closer to what I will pay at a public university in my home state? Which schools will be likely to give me merit aid?

  4. You may be familiar with the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) to help you have a ballpark idea of what you will be expected to pay, but it can be different than the sticker price. Note-The EFC will changed on July 1, 2023, to the Student Aid Index (SAI).

  5. What documents will I need to start filling out the FAFSA form?

  6. How do I fill out the FAFSA form?

  7. What is the difference between FAFSA and CSS?

  8. Do I need to fill out the FAFSA and CSS for all schools on my college list?

  9. Does your state require you to complete the FAFSA?

  10. How do I renew my FAFSA® Application?

Applicants can access the FAFSA form at

Looking for more tips and inspiration to help you start your college journey? Field Guide for an Inspired College Journey packed with insights and resources to help you navigate your college path, is now available to order online and coming soon to your local bookstore.

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