checking financial aid status

Graduating from college is a proud moment, but it can cost a lot of money. Question is: Who's paying?

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To be eligible for federal financial aid (and in most cases, state, school and private aid), all U.S. college-bound students must first complete a dreaded task: filling out their FAFSA form. Sure, it's not much more taxing than say, filling out actual taxes, but how many people are thrilled at the thought of that?

The FAFSA, which stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that's typically completed online and evaluates students' abilities to pay for their educations. Depending on each individual's situation, he or she is eligible to receive varying degrees of financial aid. For example, someone being raised by a single parent with several children and no high school diploma is probably going to get a little more financial aid than the child of a college-educated two-parent household that earns $150,000 a year.

After students have gone online and completed their FAFSAs, the folks at the Office of Federal Student Aid get to work processing the forms to determine each individual's EFC or Expected Family Contribution. This is an estimate of how much the students and their families will be expected to pony up, covering it with some combination of financial choices such as savings, income, scholarships and student loans.

But once a student has carefully, meticulously and accurately filled out his or her FAFSA form and sent it off into the ether, what happens next? As students and their parents wait to find out how much financial aid will be coming their way, a couple of possibilities could be in store for them. Find out what they are on the next page.