financial aid

Read part one of our reporting on the FAFSA, "Shrink The FAFSA? Good Luck With That"

It's deadline time for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Better known as the FAFSA.

The daunting application — with its 108 questions — stands between many college hopefuls and much-needed financial aid.

Every year, more than 20 million students apply for federal financial aid to help pay for college. Five years ago, Mandy Stango was one of them.

To get there, though, Stango felt confused and woefully unprepared. That confusion started with the very first step in the process, as she and her family had to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA.

"I sat there, I read the directions, and crossed my fingers and hoped I was doing the right thing," says Stango, who's now 23.

Around the country, millions of parents of prospective college freshmen are puzzling over one big question: How will we pay for college?

The first step for many families is reviewing the financial aid award letters they receive from each school. But often those letters can be confusing. Some are filled with acronyms and abbreviations, others lump scholarships and loans together. And because they're often very different, they're also difficult to compare.

Bryn Mawr College is located just outside Philadelphia, but every year the school goes looking for students in Boston.

Bryn Mawr typically admits 10 low-income students from the Boston area each year, providing them with financial assistance and introducing them to one another in hopes that they will form a network and support each other as they navigate their college years.

Bryn Mawr doesn't stop in Boston. Working with the nonprofit groups Posse Foundation and College Match, the college actively seeks to enroll low-income students who show great promise.