Q. My son is applying early decision to one school. But I know we won’t get the financial aid package until later. How can he say yes — if he’s accepted — if we don’t know what it’s going to cost?
— Hoping for aid

A. The college admissions process is a stressful one, and we hope your son gets into the college he’s hoping for.

But deciding how to apply — early decision, early action, regular, or rolling admissions — can be a tough one.

“Beware of applying early decision,” said David Slater, co-founder of College Benefits Research Group (CBRG). “As you stated, it is binding, so your son must attend the school if accepted, often before he is told how much financial aid will be received.”

Once bound to the school, Slater said, it is much more difficult to negotiate for additional aid.

“When applying ED, a financial aid estimate is usually given with or shortly after the acceptance as long as the school has received all required financial aid applications,” said Steven Sirot, co-founder of CBRG.

He said a family can request an “early read” of the potential financial aid award before applying, but the school is not bound to offer this amount.

Therefore, Slater said, it is wise to be conservative and be prepared to pay the full amount if there is no calculated need.

“If there is a calculated need, it is imperative that the family researches how the school typically helps fill need,” Slater said. “Bottom line: educate yourself in the process.”

He said when applying early action — which is nonbinding — or regular decision, the financial aid awards can be sent anytime from shortly after applying to as late as April. Each school has their own policies as to when they may send them out.

Email your questions to ask@njmoneyhelp.com.

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter