Financial Aid Planning for Senior Year of High School
The financial aid timeline is critical if you want to maximize the amount of financial aid for which you are eligible. Financial aid is one of the most important parts of the college process, but it can be one of the most confusing, as well. To make it simpler, we’ve packed everything you need to know into this timeline so you don’t miss any of these important steps.
It’s important to note that the dates in this timeline are general; the actual deadlines will vary depending on the school and the application round you’re applying in. Make sure you double-check on the website to make sure you get everything in on time. Also, don’t forget that submitting earlier means you have the greatest chance at getting the aid you need.
Fall of Senior Year
Start a physical folder for all of the things you’ll need to file for financial aid. This could be things like tax returns, bank account balances, and pay stubs. You’ll also want to file your financial aid letter and FAFSA/CSS reports in here, when you get those. Keep this folder somewhere safe; you’ll need to refer to it throughout your college career when it comes time to refile.
Prepare to Complete the FAFSA
The FAFSA is the main financial aid form that you will need to file. This is the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” or FAFSA. Start by getting your own financial aid PIN, which you will then use to log in to the FAFSA forms. You and your parents will both need a PIN to fill out and file the FAFSA online. You can get your pin at www.pin.ed.gov. This PIN is your identification for the entire filing process. Make sure you keep your PIN in a safe place. We recommend using a password vault like 1Password to manage this and all other passwords and account information.
Start Completing the FAFSA on October 1
To get a jump on the process, start filling out your FAFSA well before the deadline approaches. The application opens on October 1, and the sooner you complete it, the more likely you are to get the aid you need. As in many aspects of life, the “early bird gets the worm.” This is the most significant date on your financial aid timeline.
Do You Need to File the CSS Profile?
Verify whether any of the schools to which you are applying requires the completion of the CSS Profile. This is a second financial aid form that is administered by the College Board. Generally, this form is more invasive in documenting your family financial resources to pay for college. The CSS is also more time-consuming than the FAFSA, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to complete it before the deadlines for submission.
Check your deadlines. If you’re applying early action or early decision, check with those schools to see when they require you to submit the FAFSA or CSS Profile. Make sure you comply with their deadlines, and know that each school has a slightly different financial aid timeline.
Search for Third Party Scholarships
Start looking for outside scholarships. You can also begin to apply for these. There are free scholarship searches on sites like www.collegeboard.com , scholarships.com, fastweb.com, and www.gocollege.com. Keep in mind, however, that these third party scholarship applications take time to identify, and then time to complete. This method of reducing your college costs can be very time-consuming, and generally the pay-off is much smaller than most families expect. The best way to ensure you can pay for college is to select one that will be likely to come in at your budget. This does not mean that you should apply only to colleges with reasonable “list prices.” There are many educational bargains out there. A good educational consultant is able to help you find these bargains.
Keep Your Counselor in the Loop
Talk to your high school guidance counselor about financial aid. Your counselor is a resource that you can consult for all kinds of things, and they may know of scholarships that you can apply for that haven’t crossed your radar.
Winter of Senior Year
Communicate with Colleges
If you have experienced unusual circumstances recently that affect your ability to pay for college that aren’t reflected on your FAFSA as you filed it (unemployment, medical expenses, a death in the family, etc.), make sure you inform the financial aid office about them. Be prepared to write a letter and to provide documentary proof of these changes. Schools can and will take these into consideration when preparing your financial aid package, and the earlier you get them all of the relevant information, the better the financial aid package will reflect your needs.
Recheck Those Deadlines
If you’re applying regular decision or rolling admission, make sure you submit your FAFSA and CSS Profile according to your schools’ deadlines. While it would be nice if there were a single financial aid timeline for all colleges and universities in the US, the fact is that each campus has its own internal deadlines. You need to make sure to stay on top of these.
Check Your Student Aid Report (SAR)
When you get your Student Aid Report (SAR) after filling out the FAFSA, read through it carefully to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. If you need to make a correction, do so as quickly as possible.
Supply Additional Info, If Necessary
Check with your financial aid office to see if you need to submit any further documentation or forms. In some cases, for example, the college may want a copy of the most recent tax return for both the student and parent.
Spring of Senior Year
Review Aid Offers Carefully
Once you start getting financial aid letters from the schools you’ve applied to, read them carefully. Consider your options for each school, and if you have questions or concerns about any parts of a letter, contact that school’s financial aid office to discuss it.
Notify Schools of Your Decision
Once you make a decision about which school you’re going to attend, notify the other schools on your list. This lets those schools redistribute the aid they had allocated to you to other students who may need it. Completing this part of your financial aid timeline could help other students get more money at their preferred schools.
TIP A LOAN IS NOT FINANCIAL “AID” A loan is not really financial aid. It is your money…later. And more of it. And there are big differences in loans. A student is limited how much he or she can borrow: the maximum is $27,000 over four years (yes, you read that right). All other loans must be co-signed by parent or other person who has adequate income and assets to secure the loan. Moreover, the interest rate on these “Parent Plus” loans can be much higher than for the Federal student loans. This means that you will pay even more money for the right to pay later. I repeat: a loan is NOT financial aid. It is your money later.
Accept Only the Aid You Really Need
Remember that you are not obligated to take all of the financial aid that’s offered to you in your aid letter. Notify the school about whether you’re choosing to accept, reduce, or decline the aid they’re offering to you.
Summer Between High School and College
Do Your Loan Paperwork
Complete the paperwork for your student loans, including the Master Promissory Note. This acts as a contract between you and your loan company, in which they agree to lend you the money and you agree to pay it back.
Consider a Summer Job
A financial aid timeline should include a schedule for your own sweat equity! The more money you are able to make during the summer, the less you may have to work during the school year. Get a jump on things! Start looking for that summer job early enough that you can find one that pays you well.
Research Campus Work Options
If you need to work while on campus, don’t wait until the first week of school to begin researching your options. The campus employment or career services office will list job openings, and there is no reason you cannot apply before you arrive on campus. If you’re thinking about working off campus, you can scan job ads online, too. The first few days and weeks of school will be a whirlwind, so the more you can do in advance to secure your financial situation, the better.
Financial Aid Timeline for Seniors: A Summary
The financial aid timeline for seniors is not really that difficult. You just need to ensure that you are organized. The hardest part about applying for financial aid is filling out the forms. Therefore, it’s best if you can start that process earlier rather than later. Log into the FAFSA, get your PIN, and then start filling out the forms once they open up in October. This way, you’ll be ready to get your forms submitted well in advance of the deadline–and before everyone else. Remember: the early bird really does get the worm!