Mark your calendar if you have a senior: The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens on October 1.
The FAFSA is the form that determines your teen’s eligibility for financial aid to make attending college (at least a little) more affordable. Federal financial aid includes grants, scholarships, work-study jobs and loans.
Many families make the mistake of waiting to file the FAFSA or not filing at all, which could mean missing out on money you had coming to you.
Here’s why you should plan to file, why your timing matters and other important information you can use right now to get the most funding possible.
First, get organized.
There’s a lot to keep track of when it comes to applying for financial aid, and organization is key to managing the process. (And your sanity.)
Use my Financial Aid Worksheet to get everything all in one spot for each college. This worksheet will help you to compare the cost of schools side-by-side, and will also help you to track the big to-dos in order to secure that important financial aid for your teen.
Submit the form. No matter what.
Many families think that their household income is too high and so they won’t qualify for financial aid. Not true. There’s no income cut-off that disqualifies a family from federal aid, so not completing the form essentially means you might be leaving money on the table.
Other factors, such as the number of students in your household who are attending college at the same time, will affect your eligibility for aid. And even if you don’t qualify for federal grants, the unsubsidized Stafford loan and the PLUS loan are available without financial need. Given that these loans are typically less expensive than private loans, have lower, fixed interest rates and deferment options for repayment, they’re probably the best value you’ll find.
Seriously, moms and dads. Complete the form.
Watch those deadlines!
Even if fall semester seems far away, there are early deadlines to be aware of when applying for financial aid.
While the federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30 of after the school year in which your teen is applying, states and many individual colleges offer their own grants and scholarships based on the FAFSA. They set their own deadlines, which are typically much earlier than the federal deadline.
Learn when your own state’s financial aid deadline is on the Federal Student Aid website.
Some colleges offer merit-based aid based on the information completed on the FAFSA. Check with individual college websites to find out what their deadlines are to compete for merit aid.
Get it done early.
Much of state and college aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Grant and scholarship dollars can run out, so it’s important to file as soon as possible after the FAFSA opens to ensure the best opportunities to get the most money for college.
And importantly – the sooner you complete the form, the more money your teen’s likely to get. According to Edvisors, students who file the FAFSA earlier receive more than twice as much grant funding, on average, as students who file later. Pretty astounding.
And don’t forget – the FAFSA is only one piece of the financial aid puzzle. Make sure your teen is applying for scholarships, as well. Learn about 4 easy ways to find scholarships – they’re out there for everyone!