In spite of all the uncertainty and upheavals in your scholastic, athletic, community service, family and personal activities in 2020, you still managed to make it halfway through your junior year of high school. Don’t be shocked now to hear that you only have eight or nine months left to complete your preliminary activities before you will begin applying for college admissions and financial aid.
One big deadline to be aware of is that you should be prepared to file the FAFSA as early after October 1 as possible. You want to put that high on your priority list, so you are eligible for the maximum possible amount of financial aid. By then you will want to have a good grasp on possible colleges, and know whether you want to apply for early decision, early action or regular admission.
If you are like most of the students I know in your age group, however, you are probably pretty much at a loss as to what you should be doing first. So, let’s get you started with a few organizational steps you can take right now to get 2021 off to a running start:
- Organize Your Financial Paperwork: Keep track of all those end-of-year financial statements/W-2 forms, and carefully document all changes in your family’s financial situation from last year to this year.
- File Your 2020 Federal Income Tax Return: You’ll need it when you go to complete the FAFSA. Knock it off the list as soon as possible, so it won’t get in the way of your other tasks later on.
- Have a Financial Discussion With Your Parents: Talk about how much money is available for your college education, and mutually agree on comfortable price ranges. Ask your parents if they are willing to help repay any portion of student loans you may borrow. This will give you an idea of colleges that are in your price range.
- Start Your College Wish List: Think about what you want in a college education, and then start looking for schools that can meet your needs. Talk to classmates from your area with similar interests and ask about schools they are researching. You want to have a list of about eight to ten school. One or two should be a stretch for your academic record and financial situation, and four to six should be a reasonable expectation for students with your capabilities. Add one or two safety schools where you have a very high probability of being accepted.
- Visit Web Sites and Study Cost Calculators: Look at websites from preliminary schools on your list, and check their net cost calculators. While this is not an exact amount, it does give you a pretty good indication of what it costs a typical student to attend each college.
- Think About Future Earning Potential: While cost should not necessarily rule out a favored school, you do not want to rely on a heavy student loan burden. Think ahead to what students graduating with your degree from your college can earn, and balance that against what future loan payments might be.
- Ramp Up Your Preparation Schedule: Everything might take a little longer than normal if activities are still limited by Covid restrictions. You might have to allow time for virtual tours of potential colleges, and virtual interviews. Find out about test requirements. Leave time to get letters of recommendation, especially if you have to do that through mail or online.
One way to start the financial aid schedule is to apply for your FSA ID now. You can also set a CFAA new client free strategy session, so we can better coordinate your college search and financial aid timelines. On another subject, the CFAA Scholarship Program can help you locate, organize and apply to 60 personalized scholarship opportunities that could help fill any potential financial aid gap.
It’s going to be a busy year, so get as much done now as you possibly can. For the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.