Q. When are the deadlines?
A. Families should file the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 in the winter prior to enrollment. The same is true of the Profile, though candidates for early decision or early action should file on the basis of estimated figures in October.
Q. If I qualify for aid, does that mean I'll get it?
A. Not necessarily. Most of the federal aid programs are entitlements. If you're needy enough, you get them. But federal grant money is limited to $3,000 per year and subsidized loans to $2,625 for freshmen and $5,500 for upperclassmen. If that amount doesn't cover your need, the college may or may not step in to make up some or all of the difference. Whether it does will hinge on how much of its own aid money is available and how badly it wants you or your child to attend.
Q. Will applying for need-based aid hurt my chances for admission?
A. Not usually. Most colleges admit students without regard to financial need, though some private colleges use it as a consideration in borderline cases. In such cases, very needy students are more likely to be affected than those with modest need.
Q. What income levels qualify for need-based aid?
A. It depends mainly on the cost of the college, and to a lesser extent, on the family's assets and other aid considerations. A typical family with $20,000 in combined income and one child in college will generally qualify for perhaps $1,000 per year in federal grant money and several thousand in subsidized loans. For incomes above $30,000, federal aid will likely be limited to loans and work-study jobs. Many colleges, especially the expensive private ones, subsidize the federal money with their own. Where tuition and fees reach $25,000 and $30,000 per year, families with incomes as high as $50,000 can qualify for substantial grants, and even those above $100,000 may get need-based loans.