It’s the beginning of spring and final college choices are in full bloom! College decisions can be overwhelming especially when choosing what financial aid option is ideal. Determining the best financial aid type can be quite demanding, but here are four steps to eliminate stress and make an informed decision:
The thinking and waiting process makes choosing a perfect college difficult. Certain important questions must be answered, such as: What college will students be happy at? What can parents afford? What financial aid path is best for families? The reflecting time will answer the majority of these questions as students have time to discuss the options with their family.
Juniors: High school juniors, at this time, should start to reflect on what they want from their college experience. Juniors need to use this time to do their research on the different types of financial aid and varying scholarships. High school juniors overall are very new to the process, so reflecting beforehand will help for the future. Incoming seniors must also consider the family’s budget, income, taxes, etc. Being informed enables students to grasp an understanding on the financial aid process as a whole and what plan will be most favorable for all parties in the long run.
Seniors: This time of year is important for seniors to start picking what college is best for them not only with financial aid, but other attributes as well. As seniors start to approach the end of the year, college acceptances and financial aid offers/awards are rolling in. Incoming college freshman need to make sure they are amending and re-examining their student aid reports as soon as possible while also discussing what financial aid plan would be ideal. Contacting the prospective schools’ financial aid offices with questions and concerns can be a very useful tool. Lastly, it is critical to address all aspects of each respective school with the whole family as that final choice will be made easier when everyone is on the same page.
Spring is the time for students to refine their list of preferred colleges. Narrowing down a list of financial aid offers, identifying the path that will accomplish what students want is a significant step in the timeline. Students need to remember to prioritize location, size of school, financial aid offer, specific major when narrowing down their choice.
Juniors: It is never too early for high school juniors to start generating a list of colleges they are interested in and would like to investigate further. Juniors should aim for a list of five to ten colleges that they could see themselves at and do research on those specific schools. Furthermore, digging deeper with what schools offer when it comes to financial aid and scholarships is an important step too.
Seniors: Students need to communicate with financial aid offices, school counselors and their families to determine what option and financial aid path is going to be the best option for everyone. Seniors need to use this time to their advantage and thoroughly compare award letters and offers. By reducing the list of awards and deciding between two to three options will allow the family to come to a consensus more effectively.
Now is the time for high school students to start signing up for classes, clubs, tests, and other important preliminary college requirements, registering and submitting your financial aid form in the fall is equally as important. Students and parents alike often forget that there are deadlines! High schoolers should stay in contact with their school counselor as well as the desired colleges financial aid office.
Juniors: Although college seems to be far off, signing up and creating an account for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will ultimately give students a headstart when filling out financial aid forms. Contact the financial aid offices of students’ potential colleges to discuss the baseline of what a student may be eligible for or any questions they have. By being proactive, students and families will have time to examine what type of financial aid they need or could potentially receive.
Seniors: The time has come where incoming college students should be evaluating the financial aid offers from the colleges they were accepted to. Depending on the types of financial aid students end up opting for, they will need to complete verification documents along the way. There are still many factors to consider and maintain, so students cannot call it quits just yet.
The final step of making sure students receive the financial aid package that best accommodates their needs is to reorganize their plan. It is imperative to go over the financial aid requirements and what each award is offering in advance.
Juniors: With upcoming deadlines, incoming seniors need to start planning and staying on track to prepare to complete all forms and applications. If students follow the three prior steps, they will not be overwhelmed with trying to rush and complete applications and make errors, which will ultimately lead to bad choices. Juniors need to keep all of their files and notes organized in preparation for next year.
Seniors: Fall is still very much far away, but graduating high school seniors need to stay organized with their financial aid timeline and follow up with the financial aid office of their college. Staying efficient and remaining on task helps soon to be college freshman understand how their financial aid works for the whole year. Next year college students with financial aid should be well prepared to fill out the form every upcoming year of attending college as well as fulfill the requirements of the financial aid award.
Do not wait until the very last minute to start researching and applying for financial aid! The earlier students get it done, the more time they have to think about which offer fits their criteria. Remember… All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of yesterday.