You did the hard part, right? You struggled through those essays, interviews, and standardized tests. Then you refreshed your email several thousand times, trying to get an update on your acceptance status with your favorite school. But—as for financing your dream with financial aid—this is just the beginning.
Why you should care
College is expensive. It’s that simple. Unless you are fortunate enough to have your education financed by a third party, you should care. A lot. Many of my clients over the years have botched the financial aid process so badly that they find themselves scrambling for dollars at the last minute. Some have even had to decline their dream school because they can’t afford it. The earlier you get on top of the financial aid process, the better off you will be. Trust me!
Why it’s hard
Lots of deadlines: There are lots of deadlines that you need to navigate and when the money runs out, you are out of luck. There are federal deadlines, school-specific deadlines, and may be some state deadlines depending on the type of school. Additionally, you should be aware of “priority” deadlines, which are deadlines colleges use to allocate existing funds, and they’ll do so until their funds are depleted. So, you should be applying for them as early as possible. And you thought your last semester in high school was going to be a breeze…
You need your parents: Maybe your parents helped a lot during the admissions process or maybe they let you do your thing (kudos to you), but you need them now. You need them to provide financial information, tax information, employment information and lots more (think: applying for a mortgage). If your parents don’t have it together, give them a pep talk, and tell them to get it together. Now.
Out of your control: You and your parents are really busy. And, depending on your family dynamic, it may be more difficult to exchange vital information. If you don’t have good records, or they get busy at work, the process may be delayed. So hold each other accountable! Push, pull, remind, clean your room, make it a competition…do what it takes. If they don’t do what they need to do, you will be looking at more loans.
What your parents will likely need
- Patience: a big dose.
- Income records: usually most recent year(s) and any other income or benefits.
- Current bank statements and mortgage information.
- Records of any investments and liquidations (stocks, bonds, investment properties, etc.).
- Recent year tax returns (even if they didn’t finish 2016 returns, some estimate).
- There may be other requirements for the FAFSA, but if they get this information ready, they’ll be well on their way.
What you need to do
- Get Organized: Look at the website of the schools that are still in contention and see if they have any information about financial aid. There are lots of good resources out there and if you are looking for any type of federal financial aid, the first step is to check out FAFSA resources at https://fafsa.gov/. Create a comprehensive calendar (Admit.me has a free calendar) with all of your deadlines for financial aid.
- Fill out your FAFSA: First, what is a FAFSA? A FAFSA is a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and it is the gateway for any type of federal financial aid. Nothing happens without that form being filled out by the deadline. Once this form is evaluated, you will be considered for federal, state and college sources of financial aid (grants, scholarships, work study, etc.). It was released in October and many of the deadlines are coming in the next few weeks. Get on it as soon as possible.
- Fill out your CSS PROFILE: This is a CollegeBoard product (remember them – SAT/PSAT?). You can find more information about CollegeBoard CSS Profile at http://css.collegeboard.org/ Approximately 400 schools use the CSS PROFILE for non-federal financial aid including the college’s own funds. There is a fee associated with sending it to each school, but if you used the SAT fee waiver, you can apply for a fee waiver here.
- Study your school: Some schools are quirky. They may require their own supplemental forms or perhaps they have a slightly different process. Make sure you know all of the nuances of your school. It’s not good enough to just let your parents take control. Own your process!
- Make the deadlines early: My old coach used to tell me that if you’re on time, you’re late (this was usually after me actually being late but claiming to be on time). In this case, there is no room for you to be late. If you don’t make the deadline, you not just out of luck, but out of money! Set earlier deadlines for your own piece of mind and to make sure you get access to as many of the funds as possible. In addition, it takes schools time to process the information, so I always suggest 2-3 weeks in advance (minimum). Remember, once the money is depleted, is gone for that year, so it’s important to get your forms in as soon as possible.
Hopefully, this was helpful. Trust the process (any 76ers fans out there?): get organized, create your calendar, push your parents and submit early. Don’t be that person who drops the ball before they hit the end zone. Stay focused and push through this. Trust me, you have several years of relaxing ahead of you in college. Good luck!