The first smart step in the college application process is to apply to a college that is a financially safe college. The California State Universities (CSU), Universities of California (UC) and two-year community colleges are the logical economical choices however the aid you may get from private universities could bring the cost down to the public school level.
A good way to determine how much you might pay at an individual university would be to use the school’s financial aid calculator, or net price calculator. This can be incredibly helpful in determining what your financial aid package is likely to look like from that college. Most universities have their own financial aid calculators on their websites that use your financial information to estimate your package.
Who is most likely to get financial aid?
Students with “A” averages who apply to schools where there are mostly “B” students. Another way to look at it is this - apply to colleges where academically you will be in the top 25% of the class, not the middle 50% or the lowest 25% of the class.
Students whose family income is less than $40,000.
Underrepresented students (African Americans, Hispanics, or Native Americans) who apply to schools where they will be at least in the middle academic range for that college
Apply for financial aid. Many colleges require that you apply even if you are interested only in a merit-based (versus need-based) scholarship or loan. To apply for financial aid, your parents will have to fill out one or more financial aid forms. The FAFSA is the most common form that all colleges accept. The CSS profile is required by some colleges (in addition to the FAFSA). A number of colleges have their own additional financial aid forms.
You must meet each college’s financial aid deadlines. Check with each college. For early decision and early action, deadlines can be as early as October of the Senior year.