JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

How and When to Apply for Financial Aid

Special Notice regarding the federal process for requesting financial aid

2024-25 FAFSA now available

As part of implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act, the 2024-25 federal process for requesting financial assistance reflects the changes outlined below.

  • Up to 20 different colleges can be listed on the online FAFSA (up to ten colleges can be listed if the paper FAFSA is completed) and have information sent to them (in prior years, only ten colleges could be listed on the online FAFSA, with a maximum of four colleges on the paper FAFSA).
  • Due to a change in the methodology used to determine aid, a Student Aid Index (SAI) – rather than an expected family contribution (EFC) – is used to measure your (and, if applicable, your family's) ability to pay for college.
  • The new need analysis formula no longer factors the number of family members attending college into the calculation.
  • Separate criteria to determine eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant Program, linking eligibility to family size and the federal poverty level, make program funds available to more students.
  • Revisions to several of the processes and systems used to award federal student aid are required, including a new interface to directly receive federal tax information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – this change is made possible by the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (FUTURE Act).

You may also wish to visit the Federal Student Aid studentaid.gov website for more information.

2023-24 applications remain available

While the information on this page refers primarily to the federal process for requesting financial assistance for the 2024-25 academic year, the FAFSA and Alternative Application for the 2023-24 academic year remain available for students to complete and submit.

With planning and organization, you can use financial aid to help make college a reality. Anyone can apply.

Applying for Financial Aid

  • Research financial aid programs early. There are many different types of scholarships, grants and loans available, totaling billions of dollars. Start researching during your sophomore and junior years of high school, or one to two years before you plan to start college. You can find information at this website; at your high school’s counseling office; at your college's financial aid office; at public libraries; or at various lending institutions.
  • Early in your high school senior year, or one year before you start college, contact the financial aid offices at the colleges of your choice for deadlines and additional documents that may be required.
  • Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which is available to complete online via desktop and laptop computers, mobile devices, or in paper/PDF format, as soon as possible. The 2024-25 FAFSA is now available. You must submit this form in order to be considered for all federal financial aid programs, most institutional programs, and most state programs, including the State of Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant.
    • 2022 income information is used with the 2024-25 FAFSA, while income information from 2021 is reported on the 2023-24 FAFSA.
    • Further details regarding how the required tax information is obtained for the FAFSA are provided on the Financial Aid: Completing the FAFSA® page.
    • If you are an Illinois student who is not eligible for federal financial aid (and do not file the FAFSA), you may apply for a MAP grant using the online Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid, which is patterned after the FAFSA. For more information, visit the Retention of Illinois Students & Equity (RISE) Act page of this website, and talk with your high school counselor or the financial aid office at your college or university.
  • When completing your FAFSA, be sure to list all of the schools you’re interested in attending (for the 2024-25 academic year, a maximum of 20 colleges can be listed when filing the FAFSA online and a maximum of four colleges can be listed on the paper/PDF version of the FAFSA), even though you may not yet have been notified that you’ve been accepted for enrollment. Also, if you’re a dependent student, your parents will need to give consent for their tax information to be provided directly from the IRS for your FAFSA . You (and your spouse, if you are married) also need to give consent for the IRS to provide your tax information for the FAFSA.
  • For specific instructions on how to complete the FAFSA, visit the Filling Out the FAFSA Form page of Federal Student Aid's StudentAid.gov.
  • If you filed your FAFSA online you’ll receive a FAFSA Submission Summary within one to two weeks after submission. If you filed a paper FAFSA, you will receive a FAFSA Submission Summary within four to six weeks. Review your FAFSA Submission Summary carefully and follow the instructions provided. If you need a duplicate FAFSA Submission Summary, or need to check the status of your application, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800.4FEDAID or 319.337.5665. You can also check the status of your FAFSA online.

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Student Aid Index (SAI)

  • Using the information provided on the FAFSA, the federal government will measure your family's ability to contribute toward your college expenses.
  • The SAI is determined by the family's income, assets and size, and takes into consideration the family's living expenses. For an estimate of your SAI, visit the Federal Student Aid Estimator.
  • The SAI is not a lump sum amount due at the beginning of a school year but, rather, a measure of the family's ability over time to absorb some of the educational costs.

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Cost of Attendance (COA)

The college determines a Cost of Attendance (COA), which is an estimate of what expenses are usually incurred by students attending that college. Typically, a COA will include tuition, fees, living expense (room and board), books and supplies, and transportation. Each college has a different COA.

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Financial Need

  • The college will then use the SAI and COA as two of the main components when determining the amount and types of financial aid for which you may be eligible. The difference between the COA and SAI is your financial need, or the maximum you can receive in need-based assistance. The financial aid office looks to see which type(s) of aid they can offer you to meet your demonstrated financial need. They will "package" together all of these options and provide them to you for consideration. Check with the financial aid office at your college to see if any additional applications are required for scholarships or other institutional awards.
  • About nine months before starting college, double check your school's deadlines for financial aid.

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Accepting Aid and Admissions Offers

  • During your high school senior year, you’ll receive financial award notifications from the colleges you listed on your FAFSA. These award notifications will outline the financial aid packages each college can offer you. Once you’ve received the notifications, review them carefully with your parents. To help you compare packages and decide which is best for you, use the Financial Aid Worksheet (also available in Spanish). Although cost shouldn't be the only factor when deciding which college to attend, you'll still need to take it into consideration when making your final selection.
  • Select the college you want to attend.
  • Accept all or part of the financial aid package offered for that college. Follow the instructions provided in the award notification.
  • If you receive private scholarships, report them [including the source(s) and amount(s)] to your future college’s financial aid office.

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Extra Tips

  • Keep copies of all your completed forms for your records.
  • Don't hesitate to apply for any financial aid for which you feel you may be eligible.
  • You must reapply for financial aid each year, following the steps outlined above.
  • Ask your college’s financial aid office about payment options and tuition payment procedures. The financial aid office is a great resource for finding information related to all types of financial aid, including information about your aid eligibility.
  • If you accept a loan, remember you’ll need to be prepared to pay it back when the time arrives.

You also may be interested in viewing ISAC's "The 4 Steps to College Checklist" (available in English and Spanish).

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