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Applying for financial aid starts with you completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
You can complete a FAFSA online or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (800) 433-3243. You can also obtain a FAFSA from your school's financial aid office or most high school counseling offices.
Within four to six weeks of submitting a FAFSA, you should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR report tells you the amount of your expected family contribution (EFC) and confirms the information you submitted on the FAFSA.
When you submit a FAFSA, a financial aid specialist will process the application and calculate your expected family contribution. The U.S. Department of Education uses a worksheet to calculate your expected family contribution.
Your financial need is calculated as the difference of your expected college costs and EFC. You may find that your school's financial aid office is able to adjust either the expected costs or the data used to calculate your EFC in order to increase your financial need.
Timing to apply for federal financial aid is important. Generally, you should apply after January 1 for the upcoming academic year. The DOE requires you to apply by June 30. The academic year of colleges and universities in the U.S. is generally from August to May or September to June. (The DOE uses a calendar year of July 1 to June 30 for purposes of calculating financial aid.) Your school's financial aid office may impose earlier deadlines for campus-based aid programs.
Your Student Aid Record tells you the type and amount of financial aid for which you are eligible. In most cases, federal financial aid -- grants, loans, or Work-Study -- is disbursed to your school's financial aid office. The financial aid office, in turn, disburses it to you on its own terms. To ensure that your aid is awarded on a timely basis, you should visit your school's financial aid office after receiving your SAR.
Your school's financial aid office is required to notify you when it receives financial aid on your behalf and notify you of how it intends to disburse funds to you. The financial aid office may retain some of the aid award to pay for expenses in a subsequent term (semester or quarter) of the same academic year. Your school's financial aid office will explain how it intends to disburse funds to you.