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by Shannon Vasconcelos, former financial aid officer at Tufts University

Once upon a time, the college application process was simple.  By and large, students applied to just one or a couple of local colleges, they were easily accepted, and they could often pay for tuition with not much more than a summer job.

Nowadays, lots of students are considering a much more expansive network of the more than 4,000 colleges available across the country, many of those colleges have grown increasingly competitive, and paying tuition with no more than a summer job?  Forget about it!

This increasingly open, competitive, and expensive college landscape is leading students to apply to more colleges than ever before.  They’re also, it follows, needing to apply for financial aid at more colleges.

The FAFSA financial aid application, however, can only be submitted to up to 10 colleges.  What do you do, then, if you’re applying to more than 10 schools?  Do you just forgo an aid application at the remaining colleges, hoping that they’re either affordable or you just don’t end up at one of these schools in the end?

No.  There is, in fact, a way to send the FAFSA to more than 10 schools—it’s just a bit labor-intensive and a hassle you can easily avoid by keeping your college options narrowed down to a manageable list of 10 colleges or less.  Even in today’s world, applying to 8, 9, or 10 schools should be plenty, as long as that college list is well-balanced and accounting for both academic and financial factors.

Still, if you wish to apply to 11 or 12 colleges (and, for many reasons beyond the FAFSA difficulty, we beg you to apply to no more colleges than this), here are the steps you must take to apply for financial aid at all of the schools on your list:

  1. Review each college’s website to ascertain the financial aid application deadline for every school on your list (noting possible earlier deadlines for Early Action or Early Decision applicants).
  2. Determine the 10 colleges with the earliest deadlines.
  3. Complete and submit the FAFSA, listing as recipients these 10 colleges with the most pressing deadlines.
  4. Within a few days, you should receive notification that your FAFSA has been processed, with a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR)—a summary of all the information submitted on your FAFSA, with a preliminary estimate of your federal Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and alerts to any potential issues with federal student aid eligibility. This email (sent to the student’s email address) is your signal that the 10 initial colleges listed have received your FAFSA application and are all set.
  5. You can now log back into your FAFSA and replace one or two listed colleges with the remaining schools on your list—the ones with the later deadlines who have not yet received the FAFSA. (You can replace up to 10 schools, but, again, no student needs to apply to 20 colleges.) If, for example, you’re applying to 12 colleges, replace two of the original colleges with the two new ones. You can delete the other eight colleges if you wish, since they already have your FAFSA, or leave them listed so that they receive a second FAFSA transmission—it makes no difference.
  6. Resubmit the FAFSA with the new schools listed.
  7. Within a few days, you’ll receive a notification that this new FAFSA submission has been processed, and the new colleges have received your FAFSA.
  8. All colleges on your list now have your FAFSA—at least they should. It’s a good idea to log into the applicant portal at each college to check your application status in order to verify that all required documents, including the FAFSA, have been received and that your application is complete.

If, at any point, you notice an error on your Student Aid Report that needs to be corrected, you will need to repeat this process to ensure that every college on your list receives your FAFSA correction.

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Written by Shannon Vasconcelos
Shannon Vasconcelos is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Tufts University and Boston University. Visit our website to learn more about Shannon Vasconcelos.