Attention: Money 101 will no longer be available after May 31, 2021. After that time the Enrich financial literacy tool will be available at moving forward.

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Paying For College - Head Matters


5. Financial Aid Overview

Financial aid includes grants, loans, scholarships and work study. Almost everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid. It’s a good idea to understand financial aid no matter what your financial situation, because you never know when your situation might change.

a. The financial aid process

These 10 steps apply no matter where you decide to go to college. We’ll provide more detail about each of these steps later in the unit.  Because deadlines are so important, make a calendar of all the important dates and use it! 

  1. Create a scholarship portfolio and apply for scholarships – Start gathering information about scholarships long before you'll apply for them to get a head start on the scholarship process. Beginning up to a year before you plan to enroll, begin applying for scholarships. Check out our scholarship listing.
  2. Apply to schools – Beginning up to a year before you plan to enroll, begin applying to colleges. Visit for easy access to college applications.
  3. Check financial aid deadlines – for the college/university you’d like to attend. Missing financial aid deadlines can cost you thousands of dollars. The financial aid deadlines for most Colorado colleges are included in the Education Cents calendar. 
  4. File the FAFSA – with the Department of Education as soon after January 1 as possible,  to be eligible to receive financial aid in the next school year (for example, high school seniors planning to go to college immediately after high school should complete the FAFSA soon after January 1 of their senior year).
  5. File the CSS Profile – if it is required by your school. In Colorado, the CSS profile is required by Colorado College, University of Denver and the Daniels Fund Scholarship.
  6. Review your Student Aid Report (SAR) – from the Department of Education.  This shows the “results” of your FAFSA and will tell you your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which helps colleges determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. You’ll learn more about this later in this unit.
  7. Review and compare award letters – from colleges and universities.  This will tell you how much aid the college is able to give you.  Some colleges will ask that the award letter be returned with your acceptance or rejection of the financial aid they have offered by a certain deadline. Remember, you can accept some of the aid and reject other parts. For example, you might decide to accept a grant but reject a student loan that you don’t need. Each school is different so read each award letter carefully.
  8. Accept – Decide which school to attend and notify your school. Yeah! This is the exciting part!  Most all colleges require you to pay any remaining tuition and fees costs after financial aid has been subtracted and before classes begin for the term.  Decide how you will pay the difference as soon as you decide what school you are attending. Contact the college’s business office if you have questions about payment before you plan to begin classes.
  9. Meet with the financial aid office – at your college or university to make sure that you understand your award package and how much you may have to pay to attend after receiving financial aid. You’ll also have a chance to discuss any special circumstances you may have.
  10. Remember to re-file your FAFSA – each year between January 1 and March 1 as well as the CSS Profile if your college or university requires it. 

Who’s eligible for federal financial aid?
All students are eligible for some type of financial aid if they meet the following requirements: 
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Have a valid Social Security Number
  • Comply with Selective Service registration if required (visit for more information)
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate or pass an approved ability-to-benefit (ATB) test
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program at a school that participates in federal student aid programs
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