27 May No, It Is Not Too Early To Start Thinking About Financial Aid
I am always so proud of the students I work with, but especially at this time of year when they are graduating from high school and college. All of their hard work paid off, and I wish them the very best in whatever path their lives may take. As I begin to work with a new class of high school juniors/rising seniors, I am often asked whether it is too early to start thinking about college financial aid.
The parents or the student might say they want to focus on finding the perfect college first, taking college tours, studying for admissions tests, or working on their admissions applications. They believe they can worry about the financial aid side of things once the FAFSA and CSS Profile come online in the fall. But I advise these families that the two processes should go hand in hand, along with a side track that focuses on scholarships. You want to find the best possible college for your student, but you also want to make sure you have the financial ability to pay for it.
That is why it is so important to learn about financial aid early in the process. You want to become familiar with concepts such as the Net Price Calculator and the Federal Work-Study Program, but you also need to have very serious discussions about how much debt your family is willing to take on, if needed, to pay for a college education. The more you know about financial aid, the better informed those college decisions will be. Here are several solid reasons to start thinking about financial aid early in the college search process:
- Deadlines come up faster than expected: There are three types of deadlines college applicants have to contend with: admissions, financial aid, and scholarship. (And that doesn’t even take into consideration other time-sensitive activities like testing, letters of recommendation, and college tours, along with your regular summer and school activities!). Most timeframes for the big three deadlines fall into October, November and December of the senior year. If a student wants to apply for early decision admissions at a favored college, the timeframe gets really crunched. This is why I schedule a “College Listing” meeting with CFAA students, where we take the opportunity to look at all these deadlines and organize the process.
- Waiting too long can cost you money: Some programs have limited funds. Once they are gone, you are out of luck. You want to apply as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance of receiving the maximum amount of financial aid to which you are entitled.
- Limited knowledge leads to uninformed decisions: The last-minute financial aid rush can cause families to make poor financial aid choices. They might choose not to file a FAFSA at all, or they might skimp on the scholarship search. Even worse, they might make a college choice based solely on emotional criteria without having all the hard financial facts at hand. This could end up costing the student and parents thousands of extra dollars in the long run.
- Better preparation reduces stress: There are some financial aid-related activities you can take care of now that will make your life much easier in the fall. Sign up for your FSA ID, file your 2020 income taxes, gather the necessary documents, and save all information related to financial changes affecting your family in 2021. You don’t want to be running around at the last minute trying to pull everything together. That can only lead to stress, and might cause you to make mistakes that could delay the process or even end up costing you money.
College is a time of learning, but getting into college is a learning experience all in itself. If you are a rising high school senior, set up a CFAA new client free strategy session now to learn more about financial aid and finding ways to pay for college. To get 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.