Will I be eligible for need-based financial aid?

To figure out your eligibility, you should first determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used to calculate the EFC. You can estimate your EFC by using the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator.

Next, determine how much it will cost to attend the school or schools you are considering.

Subtract your EFC from the cost of attendance, and you have the eligibility amount for need-based funds. To estimate your eligibility online, try the Financial Aid Wizard.

Jim Kolesar is a spokesman for Williams College, a private liberal arts school in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He says that it's almost always a good idea for families to fill out the FAFSA, if they think there's a chance they can qualify for need-based aid.

In addition to completing the FAFSA, students applying to one of the approximately 250 colleges and universities in the U. S. that also use the CSS Profile should also file that form. The CSS Profile is used by these colleges and universities to identify students who may need financial aid that is not identified by the FAFSA. For information about the CSS Profile, visit their site

"Students should definitely apply because Williams and places like it are dedicated to making their college education affordable for all students of all income ranges," he says. "It's sad the degree to which families look at a comprehensive fee and are scared off to think their son or daughter could never attend there."

Williams is one of a few colleges that has switched to a no-loan policy, out of concern that loan burdens were affecting students' educational and career choices. The need-based packages that the school offers involve grants and work-study awards.

"Some parents will choose to borrow anyway, but no one will be expected to borrow any money in their financial package," he says.