As the cost of a college education continues to escalate, more and more families are looking to financial aid to pay the tuition. Whereas the upper-middle class might once have ignored financial aid altogether, nowadays financial aid is being relied on by nearly everyone to varying degrees.
In a recent survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 63 percent of students were receiving financial aid. While the high cost of a college education might not come as a surprise to most people, to some the financial aid process might be unchartered territory. Financial Aid Officer, a financial aid help and advice service, offers the following financial aid calender to those who might be new to the process or simply need a refresher.
Begin compiling financial records, such as earnings statements, bank statements, reports of interest earned, etc. If possible, file your federal tax return as well. While this isn't a requirement, filling out a financial aid application is much easier if you've already filed a federal income tax return.
Financial aid applications should be completed and mailed in February. Even if a student hasn't chosen a school yet or even narrowed their list, simply list all schools on the financial application to which applications were sent. When filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a report will automatically be generated for all schools listed on the application. Once the FAFSA has been filed, a "Student Aid Report" (SAR) will be sent out confirming the data submitted on the application. It's important to keep a watchful eye out for this, as any mistakes or changes will need to be reported as soon as possible.
Parents and students should know that the report can be submitted to schools not listed on the original FAFSA, so students can apply to schools they didn't include on the FAFSA without penalty. If you add schools, those schools will then receive a copy of the SAR as well.
Many schools begin making awards in March, emphasizing the importance of submitting a completed and correct FAFSA as early as possible once the new year begins. An awards report will include a package of information from a school's financial aid program detailing the programs and amount of awards. This report will also include important dates and deadlines for accepting these awards. Make special note of these deadlines to avoid losing out on any awards.
May is the time to ensure all of the correct documentation (i.e., income tax returns, verification worksheets, etc.) has been provided to schools. This is also the time when parents and students should subtract their amount of aid from the total cost of attending a given school. The resulting figure is essentially what it's going to cost to attend school right now. Determine if that figure is affordable, and examine different payment plans available to determine the best course of action.
If the immediate cost figure is deemed unaffordable, this doesn't necessarily eliminate a school from a student's list. A student could still attend the school if alternatives such as private loans are explored and subsequently granted. Because these are private loans, parents and students can apply for them whenever they choose, though it's best to do so soon after receiving the SAR.
Tie up all loose ends, such as signing paperwork, making a list of your requirements as a borrower or aid recipients and contacting your chosen school's financial aid office to see if there's anything you need to do before the school year begins.
To learn more about financial aid, visit the FAFSA Web site at www.fafsa.ed.gov.