Have you filed your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) yet? If not, you’d be smart to do so soon. It’s the single most important filing for students seeking financial aid for college. Now’s the time to file the FAFSA. Here’s why:
This year the Department of Education has made the FAFSA available to students and their parents on October first, a full three months earlier than in previous years. They’ve announced that FAFSA filing will begin in October in coming years too.
For those hoping to get financial aid for college, that’s a big plus. It means students who file early may receive word of their financial aid packages in the late fall or early winter. That gives students plenty of time to consider their options before choosing which college they’ll attend.
I say “may” because the actual financial aid packages are put together by the individual colleges, not the Department of Education. Each college works according to its own deadlines. Some will move their timing up to complement the FAFSA’s early filing option. Others will not.
When it comes to seeking financial aid for college, many students and their parents feel at the mercy of the process. Actually, you can improve your chances of success—if you consider this issue from the very start. That means finding out about a school’s aid policies before you even think of applying there.
Some colleges provide excellent financial aid; some provide very little. Some offer generous grants only to the low-income students they admit, a few are able to give generous help to middle-class applicants, too.
If you just concentrate on the admissions process, with the hope of dealing with the cost of college later, you run the risk of being accepted at schools you can’t afford. Even worse, you might miss an opportunity at a great school because you didn’t realize how large its financial aid packages are.
Contrary to popular belief, the time to start thinking about financial aid issues is not during the winter of 12th grade. By then, all you can do is fill out the financial aid forms, cross your fingers and hope for the best. Instead, take at look at your financial aid prospects at least a year or two before that.
This is a guide to how to integrate financial aid planning into your college admissions process. To help you do that, here is an explanation of the many different forms financial aid can take. Understanding the interlocking issues can make all the difference to you and your family.
High school seniors: after getting your college applications in on deadline, you probably feel you deserve at least a month’s vacation. In principle, I agree.
But in the real world, now is the time to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is the basic form that must be completed by students (or their parents) who hope to receive need-based federal student aid, including Pell Grants, federal loans and work-study jobs. It’s also used by many colleges to help determine how much non-federal aid to give you.
Most colleges that offer aid require you to file the FAFSA. Some also ask for an additional form, such as the CSS Profile. And a few have their very own financial aid forms you will be required to fill out. The FAFSA, however, is the generally the first and most important one. January is the time to start working on it.