Apply for Aid — Start Here

Federal and New York State student financial aid is available to help pay for college. In order to receive financial aid you must apply for it every year you attend college.

Always start with free money before taking out a student loan. Grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back.

Step 1: The FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid -  is the first step to financial aid. The information you provide determines whether you are eligible for federal financial aid, and the amount you are qualified to receive. Remember, the FAFSA is free — do not pay for it!

Complete the FAFSA as soon after January 1st as possible. Some financial aid is determined on a first come, first served basis so start as soon as possible.

Apply for a Federal Student Aid Identification Number (FSA ID) online at to complete and electronically sign your FAFSA and other federal student aid documents. Apply before you start the FAFSA, particularly if you are using the paper FAFSA. Or, apply online while you are completing the online FAFSA and you'll receive your PIN immediately.

Complete the FASFA online at Step-by-step assistance is available as you complete the form. If you can't do it online, ask your high school counselor for a paper copy. The FASFA is available in English and Spanish.

You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) once your FAFSA is processed. The SAR will show how much federal aid you are entitled to receive and how much your family can expect to pay. This is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Check out this list of documents and information you will need to complete the FAFSA.

Step 2: New York State TAP

If you are a New York State resident attending college in New York State, apply for TAP.

Learn about the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)

Click on the TAP application link at the end of the online FAFSA.

Or, if you already filed the FAFSA apply for TAP now.

Apply for New York State awards and scholarships for which you are eligible.

Step 3: Other NYS Aid

Step 4: Institutional Aid

The colleges you listed on the FAFSA will receive a copy of your information that they use to determine institutional aid. Once accepted, you will receive an award letter from the college detailing the aid you can receive at that college.

Check with your college to see if there are additional applications for institutional aid, such as the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.

Step 5: Outside Scholarships

Scholarships and awards are offered by other sources such as community groups, clubs and organizations.

Ask your high school counselor about available scholarships and awards.

Search FREE scholarship websites. Do not pay for them.

Step 6: Compare College Award Letters

Each college to which you are accepted will send a college award letter detailing the financial aid package you are eligible to receive.

Review and compare financial aid award letters carefully before making a decision. Use HESC's Award Letter Comparison Tool.

Once you choose the college you will attend, follow instructions on how to accept or decline each part of the offer of aid, and supply any other documents as requested.

Call the college financial aid office and make sure all documents are received, and your financial aid is set before classes start.

Step 7: Student Loans

If necessary, apply for student loans,  Be sure you have received all federal, state and institutional aid for which you qualify before you take any loans. Loans must be repaid with interest.

Start with federal loans. Federal loans have low, fixed-rates for students and parents. Follow the instructions in your award letter to receive federal loans. For more information, visit

Private loans are an option if you still have a funding gap after applying for and receiving all aid as well as federal student loans. Learn more about private loans.