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Navigating Financial Aid

Clothier Hall with fall leaves

The financial aid application process is complex and unfamiliar to many families. The prospect of completing intricate financial forms can feel daunting, especially because these forms may have consequences for a child's college costs. Our staff would like to help streamline the financial aid application process as much as possible. Families who have clear expectations about requirements, deadlines, and forms may have a smoother application experience.
 

What information is required for financial aid applications?

Swarthmore College requires domestic students to submit the CSS Profile and the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA). (Please learn more about what Swarthmore requires for financial aid applications from international students.)

These forms request a variety of financial information, and it is much easier and faster to complete the forms when you have all the necessary documents at your fingertips. Here is some guidance about how families of domestic students can streamline Swarthmore’s financial aid application process.

Gather all of your 2018 federal income tax information.

If you are applying for financial aid for the 2020-2021 academic year, you will need your complete 2018 federal income tax return, with all pages and schedules and all W-2 and 1099 forms. Your tax documents will be uploaded to the CSS Profile using a tool called IDOC. When completing the FAFSA, many families can electronically transfer tax data to the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Please note: the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is not available for families whose parents are married and filed as Married Filing Separately, are married and filed as Head of Household, or filed a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return. In these cases, tax return information must be entered manually when completing the FAFSA.

Some families have complex tax situations. Learn more about the more common tax forms that are required for Swarthmore’s financial aid application, including forms that relate to ownership in a business or a farm. Every family’s finances are unique, and the tax information required for financial aid applications will vary from student to student.

Understand what “prior prior” year means regarding tax returns.  

The federal government made two changes to the FAFSA in 2016. First, the FAFSA now uses federal income tax information from the “prior-prior” year. What this means is that when you apply for federal need-based financial aid for the 2020-21 academic year, you will use your 2018 tax returns when you complete the FAFSA, which is the year prior to the prior full calendar year. Also, the FAFSA release date (in other words, the first date the FAFSA becomes available) was moved earlier from January 1 to October 1.

The combination of prior-prior year tax returns and the earlier October 1 FAFSA release date provides families with more time to complete the financial aid application process. In addition, most families have finalized income data to use when submitting financial aid applications in the fall, because they are using tax return information that is usually filed with the IRS more than six months earlier.

The CSS Profile also uses prior-prior year tax returns, which means that you will use the same year’s tax return information for both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.

Gather your bank statements and records of investments.

You will need the most recent statements or records for all non-retirement funds. This includes checking and savings bank accounts, and the value of investments in stocks and bonds. If you own real estate in addition to the home where your family lives, you will need to report its value as well. You should report the current amounts as of the date you submit the completed FAFSA and CSS Profile, not amounts from the 2018 tax return.

Gather information about child care, tuition, and medical expenses.

The CSS Profile asks for information about what you spent on child care, private school tuition, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Gather information about other financial assets or income sources.

The CSS Profile asks for information about possible trust accounts, inheritances, and several variations of untaxed income. If anyone is the beneficiary of a trust, you will need to provide the name of the trust, the number of beneficiaries, and the value of the trust. If anyone inherited money, you will need to provide the details about the inheritance. If anyone earned untaxed income in 2018, you will need to provide information about the source and amount of that income for both the CSS Profile and the FAFSA.

Gather information about parents’ student loan payments.

The CSS Profile asks for the details about student loan payments that were made for a parent’s own education expenses

What login accounts are used for the FAFSA and CSS Profile?

Parents and their dependent children who are applying for financial aid will each need their own login IDs for the CSS Profile and the FAFSA; these IDs are as unique to each of them as their own Social Security Numbers. Parents whose dependent students are applying for financial aid should create and use a parent FSA ID, which is a username and password combination used for the FAFSA. The FSA ID is used to log in to the FAFSA site, and it is also used to sign off on a completed FAFSA prior to submitting it. Students should create and use their own FSA IDs which are different from parents’ FSA IDs.  

Similarly, parents and students should create and use separate accounts for the CSS Profile.

Divorced and separated parents should use separate parent accounts when submitting financial aid applications.

When can I apply for financial aid? Is there a cost?

You can apply for financial aid for the 2020-2021 academic year using the FAFSA and the CSS Profile as early as October 1, 2019. This applies to both prospective and returning students.

There is no charge to submit the FAFSA. The CSS Profile charges $25 for the initial application and the first college report, and additional reports are $16 each; a debit card or credit card is required to pay the fee(s). The CSS Profile provides fee waivers for some students based on the information that is entered in the application.

What are Swarthmore’s financial aid application deadlines?
Prospective Student Financial Aid Application Deadlines
SUBMIT CompleteD Application By RECEIVE DECISION By
QuestBridge National College Match: November 1 With Admission Decision

Fall Early Decision: Nov. 15

With Admission Decision

Winter Early Decision: Jan. 1*

With Admission Decision

Regular Decision: Jan. 1*

With Admission Decision

Transfer: April 1

With Admission Decision

​*  If you submit your application for admission and/or your application for financial aid (CSS Profile) close to the January 1 deadline, there may be up to a week delay in processing your information. During this time, you may be unable to view your financial aid checklist. Please account for this delay before contacting the College. For your convenience, a two-week grace period of your CSS Profile submission and supporting documentation is automatically factored into the January 1 deadline.

Current Student Financial Aid Application Deadlines
Submit CompleteD Application By

Receive Decision By

November 1 Late May 2020
March 1 Late June 2020
How do I apply for financial aid?

Learn more about how to apply for financial aid, including what documentation and application forms are required for domestic and international students.