Although the FAFSA form doesn't take that long to fill out and file (20 minutes, on average), especially if you do it online, it can take some time to get the Student Aid Report and the school's financial aid offer. So what do you do in the meantime? Use the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Estimator.

What Does It Do?

This tool will summarize the cost, the total aid entered, and the difference (the net cost of attending college), along with your estimated Student Aid Index (SAI). With this information, you can compare schools by changing the cost of attendance, delete state aid if you will be an out-of-state student at a particular school, amend the amount of aid available from the school, and so on.

You don't even have to be a high school senior (or the parent of one) to use the forecaster. The Department of Education recommends the tool also for juniors, and even as early as middle school. You can use it to receive early estimates, create scenarios based on future earnings, and plan college funding strategies.

What Information Will I Need?

The tool asks you financial and other questions that are used to estimate your federal student aid eligibility. Be aware that some of the questions may ask you for information from your personal records (e.g., your federal tax information or your bank statements). This also includes amounts of state and college aid, as well as private scholarships you expect, or hope to get.

For each one, you should use the most current information you have. Be sure to answer all the questions, even if you have to estimate or guess. You will also need to know the school's cost of attendance (or find it on their College Navigator).

What Information Will I Get Back?

The forecaster will come back with the following information:

So as you can see, this forecaster can be a great help if you can't wait to find out what aid you are likely to get, or want to plan for the college education of a younger child!

More Information

If you are looking for more information about federal financial aid for college, then download my free book, Applying for Federal Financial Aid: The Definitive Guide for Students and Parents.

For more information about what happens after you graduate, get my free book, I Graduated; Now What? A Guide to Dealing with Your Student Loans.

You can also access the latest news on student loans, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and read articles in my Library. Continue to educate yourself as you go through the process of making smart decisions about college financing!

Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.