It's never too early to start planning how you're going to pay for college. The sooner you learn about financial aid and make college financing plans, the more aid you're likely to get. Here's a timeline that works for most students.
- Parents. Talk to your parents about how they can help you pay for college and qualify for financial aid. Find out how much college cost they are prepared to cover.
- Counselor. Visit your counselor and investigate the type of college you'd like to attend and your options for financial aid.
- Scholarships. Start looking for scholarships and get familiar with their common academic requirements.
- PSAT. Take the PSAT if you hope to qualify for a Merit Scholarship.
- Financial aid. Find out about financial aid application procedures and deadlines at the colleges you will apply to.
- Scholarships. Continue searching and applying for private scholarships.
- Grades. Don't let your grades slide. In fact, to qualify for the most scholarships, buckle down and study harder. Do whatever it takes to excel academically.
- FAFSA. Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1 and no later than each college's deadline, making sure you keep a copy. Follow up with any supplementary forms required by the colleges you're interested in. (Note that some college deadlines for submitting the FAFSA are as early as mid-February.)
- SAR. After receiving your FAFSA, the federal government will e-mail or mail you a Student Aid Report (SAR). Review your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) on the SAR. Make sure the figures they used to calculate your EFC are accurate. If not, follow the instructions on the SAR. If you do not receive the SAR within two weeks of submitting your FAFSA, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center of the Department of Education at (800) 4-FED-AID or (800) 433-3243.
- CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. If you plan on attending a private college that requires the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, make sure you submit it by its deadline. (You can copy many of the figures from your copy of the FAFSA.)
- College aid offers. Wait until you hear from all the colleges you applied to before you make your decision. Once you receive all the acceptance letters and financial aid award letters you expect to receive, determine the net price of each college. Compare the award packages for the ratio of gift aid to loan aid, the cost not covered by aid, and how you can make up the difference. Consider how much you want the college in relation to the aid offered, and any other factors highly important to you. If you see reasons to appeal an award and have documentation to back up your claim, contact the financial aid office at the college in question. Negotiate for more aid, if that's an allowable procedure.
- Notification. Let all the colleges that accepted you know whether or not you plan to attend their school by their individual deadlines.
- Financial aid. If requested, return the signed financial aid award letter to the college you plan to attend, keeping (as always) a copy for your records.
- Loans. Start applying for any student or private loans for which you're eligible and which you'll need. Return the Master Promissory Note for federal loans and, if you're eligible, the applications for PLUS and Perkins loans.
- Work-study. If your award includes work-study, go to the college employment office after you get settled in at the campus to find a part-time job that appeals to you and fits in with your class schedule.
These are the highlights of your road to financial aid for college. Everyone will have to negotiate a few bumps and "side trips," but the more prepared you are, the smoother your ride will be.
Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.