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Financial Aid & Paying for College

Navigating financial aid can be daunting. It helps to:

  1. Start early. Families with 9th and 10th grade students can start planning. It is possible you may want to make some changes in your financial arrangements. 
  2. Do your research into colleges by going through the steps on this College Fit document. Some schools offer excellent need-based aid, and others offer great merit aid, and it helps to go through steps like: 
    1. Use the Federal Student Aid Estimator and the Washington State Financial Aid Calculator to assess what you may be likely to receive for aid
    2. Use Net Price Calculators available on every college's website
    3. Investigate Need-Based & Merit Aid policies and practices for individual colleges. 
  3. Be aware of programs like WUE, the Western Undergraduate Exchange (see below). 
  4. Use finances as a factor when forming college lists. Cost isn't everything, but it is a major factor for most families. 
  5. Seek outside help. Below are two resources to start with:
    1. Paying for College in Four Steps by the College Essay Guy. We especially recommend Step 2 which will help you understand college pricing. 
    2. The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber (book) explains how college pricing works and recommends strategies as you look for colleges. Here's an excerpt.


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The Financial Aid Process

Finding financial aid can seem overwhelming when you’re trying to get ready for college or career school. The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid is the source of the FAFSA. 


Scholarships and state aid can help cover the cost of college or career school, but you may find yourself in need of federal assistance.

  • START SAVINGS: Begin saving early.
  • LOOK FOR SCHOLARSHIPS:  through your state or college as well as national and community organizations. 
  • RESEARCH STATE PROGRAMS:  Washington has several Financial Aid Programs. Access these primarily by filling out the FAFSA or WASFA (only one, and which depends on your circumstances). 


FILL OUT THE FAFSA:  the FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is the only way to apply for federal student aid. The schools you list on your application will use FAFSA information to evaluate your financial need and determine how much federal aid you are eligible to receive. Many states and colleges also use information from your FAFSA to provide their own financial aid. Important to know about the FAFSA: 
  • Opens October 1. It is best to fill it out as early as you can because some aid is first come, first served. In the school year 2023-2024 only, the FAFSA will open in December. 
  • To complete, you will need to provide personal and tax information. You will be able to automatically retrieve your tax information from the IRS.
  • You will use tax forms from two years prior to the fall you will start college. So, if you will start college in fall of 2024, you will use 2022 tax information. 
  • Access & complete online at Make sure to fill out and submit the FAFSA each year you are in college.
  • After you submit, watch for your receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR summarizes the information in your FAFSA. Review it and make corrections if needed.
  • Your FAFSA helps your school determine the types of federal student aid you are eligible to receive.

Types of Federal Student Aid

As the largest provider of financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid provides grants, loans, and work-study funds.

  • GRANTS: Grants are free money that do not have to be repaid.
  • LOANS: Student loans are real loans (like a car or home loan) that need to be repaid with interest.
  • WORK STUDY:  A work-study job gives you the opportunity to earn money to help pay your educational expenses. This is self-help aid. 

Award/ Offer

Your award letter explains the combination of federal grants, loans, and work-study a college is offering you. The offer might also contain state and institutional aid. If you receive award letters from multiple colleges or career schools, you should compare them and decide which school works best for you.


Every college or career school has a financial aid office to help guide you along the way; you should know where it is and how to get help once you are there. 

Beyond Education

Workforce: When you take the time to plan for your education and let Federal Student Aid help you along the way, you’ll be setting the foundation for a bright future and success in the workforce.

Repayment: Once you leave school, you will need to repay your student loans. Contact your loan servicer to discuss your repayment options.

Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education

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Get Started on the FAFSA

  1. Create your FAFSA Account (also called FSA ID). Both the student and a parent need accounts. If there are older siblings, the parent may already have an account and should not create a new one. 
  2. Start the FAFSA at  as early as October 1 of senior year, except in 2023-2024 when it will open in December. 
  3. Some colleges also use the CSS Profile to assess a family's need. It opens October 1 each fall and requires a fee. 

For a more comprehensive set of steps, see Steps for College Financial Aid, a checklist that Shorewood provides for senior families each year.  


Washington State Financial Aid

The Washington State Achievement Council oversees all Washington State Financial Aid Programs.  Go here for more information on programs available, including: 

  • Washington College Grant which provides low- to middle-income families money for college, career training, and participating apprenticeships
  • College Bound Scholarship , the program in which about 100 students in every Shorewood class enrolled in during middle school
  • State Work Study, in which students get a job (usually on-campus at their college) to help pay for school
  • Passport to Careers which helps students who have been in foster care and/ or homeless without  a parent/ guardian
  • Washington State Opportunity Scholarship with scholarships for students pursuing 4-year degrees and for students pursuing career and technical training
  • WASFA/  Washington Application for State Financial Aid,  which operates much like the FAFSA but is State Financial Aid for DREAMers with alternate citizenship or immigration status
  • Opportunity Grants which help low-income students complete up to one year of college or certificate in high-demand areas. Administered through the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges

GET Account Resources

If you have a Guaranteed Education Tuition / GET account, a Washington State college savings tool, see the following: 


Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA)

Start the WASFA

DREAMers:  On February 26th, 2014, Governor Inslee signed the Dream Act, known in Washington State as the Real Hope Act into law. This law allows undocumented non-citizens, who are unable to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) due to immigration status, to apply for State Financial Aid through the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) application.

In addition to filling out the WASFA, students should look at this list of scholarships that are open to undocumented students. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) list can be found at

CSS Profile 

Almost 400 colleges use the CSS Profile to award grants and scholarships in addition to the FAFSA. Most of them are private institutions. See the CSS Profile List of Participating Institutions to see whether the colleges you are interested in use the profile. In Washington State, only Whitman College requires the CSS Profile. Whitworth University is listed, but they only use it for International Applicants. 

The Profile counts income and assets differently than the FAFSA. For a summary, see Differences Between the FAFSA and Profile Forms. For a video overview and a written CSS FAQ by college financial aid experts, see Completing the CSS Profile 10.4.2023.


WUE:  Western Undergraduate Exchange

Western Undergradate Exchange, or WUE (pronouced woo-ee) is an agreement between some public colleges in Western states that gives students from those states a break on the out-of-state tuition. Not all public colleges participate, and not all degree programs are eligible at participating colleges. Check carefully well ahead of time. For general information:

For information on particular schools, look on institutions' Financial Aid websites. Follow the links in your WUE search and seach on the school website for WUE.

Example 1: applicants to the University of Idaho who are residents of Washington or Oregon and who qualify under the requirements set by U of I will pay 150% of in-state tuition rather than 300% of in-state tuition like most out-of-state students. The qualifications include a GPA of at least 3.2 and  See University of Idaho Undergraduate Scholarships, and follow the links for Out of State and WUE. U of I does not require a separate application for WUE, but some schools do. 

Example 2: applicants to Montana State must submit an application for admission and must complete a separate application for the WUE Scholarship. Recipients will pay 150% of in-state tuition rather than the usual out of state rate, which is approximately 300%. Students must apply early and should recognize that the awards are limited in number and competitive. See MSU Non Resident First Year Scholarships and select links for WUE. 

National Student Exchange 

National Student Exchange may be good for students who want a "study away" option during college rather than a "study abroad" option. They could spend a year at another institution while still paying the tuition for their home institution. The National Student Exchange is a unique, not-for-profit consortium of nearly 170 accredited, baccalaureate-granting colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Established in 1968, NSE has provided exchange opportunities to more than 113,000 students.


Other resources: – admission & financial aid info for Community/Technical colleges – scholarships for students in WA State – Scholarships for Hispanic Americans – scholarships for low-income and minority students – Scholarships for Latino students


FAFSA/ Financial Aid Overview

aqua background with Look Ahead to Financial Aid in bold black letters

View Look Ahead to Financial Aid presentation from our January 2024 Financial Aid Awareness Month. Click through for an overview of the forms and process of applying for financial aid for college or career training.  

Also see the full Grade 11 Financial Aid Awareness Packet from January 2024 with many more resources. 


Download the financial aid image


All About FAFSA handout

Covers what, who, when, and how of this first step for financial aid.  

All About WASFA handout

Covers what, who, when, and how of this financial aid application for students who have alternate citizenship or immigration status.  

FSA ID Worksheet

Walks through the process of creating an account / setting up an FSA ID and helps keep track of the info. You must create an account/ set up an FSA ID at least one week before you intend to fill our the FAFSA.

Introduction to Price You Pay

Introduction to the excellent book The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber. Look for reviews and interviews with Mr. Lieber online. 

WSJ Guide to Student Loans

This guide is long but detailed and very helpful if you are considering taking on debt. Subtitle:  Navigating the Myths and Misunderstandings About College Debt (3.2022). 


Trying to decipher a Financial Aid Award letter? 

See the Financial Aid Awards page for help. 

Master the Financial Aid Process

This Kiplinger article explains the basics and warns against scams. "To make sure you get the most financial aid possible, learn about the various sources of aid and the application process. And don't delay." 

Official Financial Aid Links

FAFSA Create Account

FAFSA form

WASFA Questionnaire to determine if you need WASFA or FAFSA

WASFA New User

FAFSA Known Issue Alerts  to look up common problems and workarounds

FAFSA Parent Contributor page  to determine who needs to add information to & sign the form

Contributor FAQ