How and When to Apply for Financial Aid (Calendar)
Special Notice regarding the 2024-25 federal process for requesting financial aid
As part of implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act, the 2024-25 federal process for requesting financial assistance is anticipated to reflect the changes outlined below.
- Up to 20 different colleges can be listed on the online FAFSA and have information sent to them (in prior years, only ten colleges could be listed).
- 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).
Because the above-referenced changes will take time to properly implement, the 2024-25 FAFSA is expected to be available in December 2023 (rather than in October). ISAC anticipates availability of the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid for the 2024-25 academic year to coincide with the launch of the 2024-25 FAFSA.
This website will be updated as further details becomes available regarding the 2024-25 federal process for requesting financial aid. You may also wish to visit the Federal Student Aid studentaid.gov website for more information.
The remainder of the information on this page refers to the federal process for requesting financial assistance for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years.
With planning and organization, you can use financial aid to help make college a reality. Anyone can apply.
- Applying for Financial Aid
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
- Cost of Attendance (COA)
- Financial Need
- Accepting Aid and Admissions Offers
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 after October 1 as possible. 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.
- Students (and parents, as necessary) report their 2020 income information on the 2022-23 FAFSA, while 2021 income information is reported on the 2023-24 FAFSA.
- Further details regarding how to obtain the tax information needed to complete 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 (a maximum of ten 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, be sure to ask your parents to have their tax documents from the appropriate year available in order to have the information needed for your FAFSA and other financial aid forms. If they do not have their tax returns the appropriate year completed in time to apply for financial aid, you can use an estimate of income and taxes to file your FAFSA. You also need to fill out your tax forms in order to have the information needed 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 Student Aid Report (SAR) within one to two weeks after submission. If you filed a paper FAFSA, you will receive a SAR within four to six weeks. Review your SAR carefully and follow the instructions provided. If you need a duplicate SAR, 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.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
- Using the information provided on the FAFSA, the federal government will calculate your family's expected family contribution (EFC), or the amount of money you are expected to be able to contribute toward your college expenses.
- The EFC is determined by the family's income, assets and size, and takes into consideration the family's living expenses and the number of family members enrolled in college. For an estimate of your EFC, visit the Federal Student Aid Estimator.
- The EFC 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.
- For more information regarding the EFC, see Federal Student Aid's "The EFC Formula" publication (currently available for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 processing cycles).
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.
- The college will then use the EFC 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 EFC 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.
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 and Polish). 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.
- 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).