Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
The initial step to determine your eligibility for federal aid and many of the state and institutional need-based aid programs is to complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your completed FAFSA is the primary source for computation of your Expected Family Contribution. Once you complete the FAFSA, you will know your Expected Family Contribution. This contribution is the major factor used in determining your need for financial aid. (Some schools require additional financial aid forms.)
If you need to send FAFSA information to more than six schools, you have several options. "About four weeks after mailing your application, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). You can take or send a photocopy of your SAR to a new college. You can also write a letter to a FAFSA processor requesting that information be sent to new colleges. Or, after you receive your SAR, you can write in new college names and addresses or Title IV School Codes on the SAR, and return it to the address printed on the SAR."
Remember, gift aid funds are limited. Therefore, it is important to find out each school's financial aid application deadline and not miss it. Generally, you should initiate the aid application process by completing the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st for the next academic year (usually the following Fall) the student will attend. Most colleges will require completion of their admission application before they will process your application for financial aid.
The folks at the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education provide the FAFSA Express , or Apply on-line.