Read on for helpful tips and tools to get you through the financial aid for college planning process.

Read on for helpful tips and tools to get you through the financial aid for college planning process.

Dollars and sense: calculating costs
When determining how much a college costs, it's important to remember that expenses go beyond tuition and housing fees. You should also take books, travel expenses, and spending money into account, or you could find yourself in a financial jam throughout your semester.

Start your college financial planning with a thorough assessment of the complete costs associated with each school on your list. This will help you accurately compare expenses down the road when you have student aid offers from each school.


Financial aid: Do you qualify?

Covering the cost of higher education can be a challenge. Once you've figured out the price tag on your colleges of choice, it's time to start thinking about financial aid information. But how do you know if you qualify?

The process of determining your eligibility starts well before you ever receive an offer of admission. To get the ball rolling, complete the Free Application for Federal and Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1 of the year in which you intend to start school. Based on the information you provide, you'll open the door to various forms of need-based aid.


FAFSA and PROFILE essentials
When it comes to getting student financial aid, consider the FAFSA your best friend. Why? As mentioned above, to qualify for any state or federal aid — including scholarships, work-study programs, grants, or loans — you're required to complete it.

About 600 undergraduate colleges, many of which award large amounts of their own financial aid, also require you to fill out an additional form known as the CSS PROFILE. The CSS PROFILE is designed to provide schools with more information than the federal government provides in the FAFSA. The CSS PROFILE requires you to pay a small application fee, but it also qualifies you for institutional aid.