Sometimes it can feel like it is just too much stress having to worry about timeframes and deadlines. But what if thinking about those things could make the difference in your family’s ability to help your student pay for college? Would a calendar seem more like a good friend then?
Deadlines, after all, are there for a reason. Without them, we would probably never get anything done! When used properly, though, they can help create order out of seeming chaos and give us touchstones along the path to meeting our goals. When it comes to receiving financial aid to help pay for college, knowing your deadlines is a must.
While you might be aware of the different types of application deadlines such as early decision, early action or regular action, you might not be aware that there could be just as many different types of financial aid deadlines as well. Even worse, they can be different for each of the colleges where your student wants to apply.
I often recommend setting up some type of scheduling system. It can be as simple as a giant wall calendar, or as sophisticated as an Excel spreadsheet. Whatever you do, it is also helpful to set a mental deadline of at least one week ahead of each of the official deadlines so that you leave yourself some wiggle room when push comes to shove, or so that you have time to make corrections if you make some type of error. Even before that, make sure you know what you need to be able to meet each deadline and work your way backwards to give yourself enough time to complete each step.
Keep in mind that you might have to take different actions for each college, which could require even more of your time management skills. To get you started, here are some of the financial aid deadlines you and your student will need to follow:
• Filing the FAFSA: The starting point for most types of financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA. This will be available online October 1 for the 2020-21 academic year and may also meet the requirements for institutional and state financial aid, as well as some scholarships. Technically you have until June 30 of next year to complete the FAFSA, but it is always best to complete it as early as possible because some financial aid programs have limited funding available. Don’t sit down on October 1 to start learning about the process – learn about it ahead of time so you are good to go when the calendar changes.
• Individual College Financial Aid Deadlines: Each college has its own specific financial aid deadline, and some of them can be earlier than you might think. You could be rolling along and not taking best advantage of your summer break when the senior year of high school starts again, and realize that some colleges have deadlines as early as November. Some want you to file the FAFSA, some want a CSS Profile, and others have financial aid applications of their own or require additional information. If the parents have gotten divorced or the family’s financial situation has changed dramatically, additional documentation might be needed. Then there is a mad scramble to get everything done, and mistakes can be made.
• State Financial Aid Deadlines: Each state has its own financial aid program, and has separate financial aid deadlines. Make sure your FAFSA is submitted before your state deadline.
Scholarships can also be considered a form of financial aid. This takes a lot of research to find those you have the most likelihood of winning. Their application deadlines can be anywhere from early winter through next year, and they might require different information than the financial aid forms, so it is best to leave plenty of time for this process as well.
So get out the calendar or app and start planning your college application process now so you won’t be stretched thin in the fall. You’ll be glad you made the calendar your frien