As a student you know that the most important aspect of school is learning something. In high school you are learning fundamental information on a variety of general topics. In college you will zero in on a specific field of study to gain more information. Before you start learning college lessons, though, you first need to complete application forms and then find the money to be able to pay for it.
Some students are fortunate that their parents have the financial resources available to put them through college without outside support, or they may have a certain talent or field of interest that makes them very appealing to colleges. But most students will have to rely on financial aid to help them cover the gap between what a college costs and what their family is able to pay.
As with any other endeavor, knowledge is a potent weapon when it comes to applying for financial aid. The best step you can take for yourself now is to gain as much information as possible so that you won’t be scrambling when the time comes to start filling out applications. Here are some crucial details juniors need to know about financial aid:
• It all starts with the FAFSA: If you are not yet familiar with the term FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you might already be falling behind. Filing the FAFSA is the first stop to determine your eligibility for federal, state, and most institutional college financial aid. In some cases you might also have to complete a CSS Profile or provide additional information to your college, but most will start with the FAFSA. The application for the 2020-21 academic year will come online October 1, 2019, and you will need to be prepared to file as soon as possible after that to make sure you give yourself the best opportunity of receiving all the financial aid to which you are entitled. Another important lesson to learn is that you should never make assumptions about whether you can receive financial aid – always file the FAFSA and let your schools make their decisions based on the information you provide.
• Early is always better: You might have picked up some bad procrastination habits in high school, but one thing you will definitely need to know about applying to college and getting financial aid is that early is always better. That means you need to narrow down your college list now and get a good handle on all their application and financial aid deadlines. Then look at the deadlines to apply for financial aid in your state, and you might be surprised to see that some of them can occur as early as October and November of your senior year! In addition you actually want to submit your applications well in advance of the deadlines to leave yourself enough time to correct any errors or submit additional information.
• Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t: Applying for admissions and financial aid is a lot like many of the other situations you will run into in your life – sometimes things will go your way and sometimes they won’t. The best defense is to be mentally prepared for whatever comes your way and to always have a backup plan in place. Don’t get your heart set on a particular college until you find out whether you can really afford it. If the financial aid you need doesn’t come through, have a backup plan in place to apply to another college, or think about ways you can earn more money or find scholarships that might help make your individual dream come true.
While it is definitely true that you have a lot to accomplish by the end of your junior year and during the summer so that you will be able to start applying to college in the fall, it is also true that there are many solid steps you can take now to get yourself on the right path. Start gathering as much information as you can, narrow down your college list, and get yourself educated about financial aid.