Financial Aid

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing the FAFSA!

The biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. The most recent study from the American Council on Education found that 1.8 million students who would have qualified for Federal financial aid failed to apply for aid. Last year, the federal government had more than $150 billion in federal aid for students who qualify. 

So even if you think you won't qualify, it may be worth it to apply. You're not alone. 85% of full-time students at four-year colleges receive some form of federal aid.

Yet applying for financial aid can be one of the most confusing and daunting steps in the college application process. Well, here's help! Financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz and his coauthor David Levy have made their bestselling 250-page book, Filing the FAFSA, The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, available for free download at

Available now! A Completely Revised and Updated College Admission

College Admission: From Application to Acceptance Step by Step has been completely revised and updated for changes to the Common Application, testing, the essay, financial aid and more, including information for transfer students and  undocumented students, and timelines for the college application process. Look for the red banner! You can find it here.

What three things should rising seniors be doing over the summer?

As we head off into the summer, we asked our experts what rising seniors should be doing this summer. As usual, they've got some great advice about how to rest, recharge, and prepare for a couple of steps in the college application process so you'll hit the ground running -- and avoid feeling overwhelmed -- in the fall. And don't forget, two of the most important and best things you can do this summer are rest and read, read, read... Nothing will prepare you better for senior year. Enjoy all of it!


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator
Mountain View High School
Mountain View, CA


“Having fun” and “preparing for college applications” aren’t phrases you normally hear in the same breath.  But the summer before senior year could be the golden opportunity to make this happen.  Let’s see how:


A welcome reality check on the subject of student loans

"It is not uncommon to read stories about college students who say, “I woke up one day and realized I had $50,000 in outstanding student loans and had no idea how I got there.”  And yet nobody would accept at face value someone stating, “I woke up one day driving a Mercedes and had no idea how I was $50,000 in debt.”  

Finally, some straight talk on the subject of student debt from Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, via Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post -- Is the $1 trillion student loan debt really a crisis? Right now, thousands of families are considering financial aid offers -- most of which include loans. Heller cuts through the media madness surrounding student debt with a look at the facts of the situation, the value of a college degree, and what the future will hold. It's a welcome reality check in the face of the hyperbole from the headlines to the White House hyperbole. If you and your family are looking at a financial aid award which requires some indebtedness, don't miss this! You can see the entire column here

April is the Craziest Month for Seniors and their Families

Jane Kulow, aka Dr. StrangeCollege, is back with advice for seniors and their families as application season nears the finish line of decisions. 


April is the craziest month.

T.S. Eliot may have called April the cruelest month, but for high school seniors that label might go to March. After the long autumn months of writing college applications and the cold winter months of awaiting a response (and hoping for the best), March delivers the stark reality of college admission decisions:  yes, no, or would you like to wait for a possible yes later (at very low odds)?

Which brings us to the craziness of April and the decisions seniors and their families face. Even when the student is accepted into his or her favorite school, most families will want to look closely at each of the colleges offering admission.

Closely, and quickly: the May 1 deadline for the student’s decision fast approaches.

Here’s what many senior households may wish to do this month:

Visit the campus

If you haven’t yet visited the campus, now’s the time to take a look, before anyone writes a deposit check. Virtual visits may be great, but they cannot convey the smell of the freshman dorm, the path from one end of campus to another, or the typical style of students at the school.

Or visit again

Financial Aid Checklist for Decision Time!

It's decision time! Your financial aid award letters will usually arrive with your letters of acceptance, or soon thereafter. Even though you will be celebrating and contemplating your choices, you will also need to be focused and diligent about evaluating your financial aid offers. College advisor Alice Kleeman is back with advice and answers for your questions during this important time.


·        You will often receive financial aid offers (also called "financial aid packages" or "financial aid award letters") with your admit letter or shortly thereafter.  Review these offers carefully. Ask questions at your College and Career Center or Guidance Office if you don't understand your letters.

·        Colleges vary tremendously in their cost of attendance, present their costs in different ways, and offer different amounts of financial aid in different combinations. This can make it difficult to understand which combination of price and student aid award is best. Here are some tools for comparing financial aid awards:  

                      US Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center

                      College Board Big Future

Trevor Rusert, Sewickley Academy

We want to tell you a story. A story that we think gets to the heart of who most high school college counselors are -- at least the ones every parent wishes for their son or daughter. This is a story about Trevor Rusert and a student named Amanda.

Amanda lives with her father, a single parent. Her family is working class and Amanda had a significant scholarship to attend Sewickley Academy in Pennsylvania where Rusert is Director of College Guidance. But her scholarship didn't cover everything, so Amanda worked 30 hours a week at McDonald's as shift manager -- 6 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then full shifts on the weekend -- to make up the difference. In the summertime, she worked with Sewickley's maintenance crew during the day and was back at McDonald's at night -- 70-plus hours a week.

Seniors: Review Financial Aid Awards Carefully

As you receive financial aid offers (also called "financial aid packages" or "financial aid award letters") from the colleges that admit you, review these offers carefully. There is no standard financial aid offer or award letter format. Each college has its own way of reporting and itemizing your aid package. This can make it difficult to understand which combination of price and student aid award is best from offer to offer. Be a wise consumer! Make sure you understand what is being offered and what you are accepting.

For example, pay particular attention to how much you have been awarded in grants vs. loans. Note the proportion of loans to grants—and the actual amount your family will pay -- each year! Figure out whether the grants are for one year or can be renewed.