College-bound students have been spending the previous months considering and evaluating their college choices.
The next step in the process - filing for financial aid - is often the most important one.
Leanne Valentine, director of financial assistance at Buena Vista University, reminds students and parents that an early financial aid application can maximize financial assistance at Buena Vista University and other colleges. She recommends students discuss priority deadlines for financial aid consideration with schools they are interested in attending.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must be submitted to receive federal financial aid. FAFSA forms are available at many high school guidance offices as well as at BVU's Office of Financial Assistance.
For quicker and more accurate results, filing your FAFSA electronically is recommended. Online filing can be completed by visiting the FAFSA web site at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Valentine offers other tips to avoid common misunderstandings and mistakes in the college financial aid process.
Look Beyond the Sticker Price
Many assume an institution is not affordable before investigating financial aid opportunities. In many cases, grants, scholarships, loans and campus employment are offered to make college more affordable.
For example, at Buena Vista University, more than 95 percent of full-time students receive financial assistance. Most financial aid awards are, on average, over $17,000, helping students achieve their educational goals.
Start Early and Plan Ahead
Since monies are awarded on a first-come, first served basis, it is important to start the application process early enough to anticipate any delays without affecting eligibility for financial aid.
Income tax figures are used in computing financial aid eligibility. Although it's best to use figures from completed income tax forms on financial aid applications, Valentine suggests using estimated income and tax figures if necessary for an early application.
Complete Forms Carefully
According to Valentine, submitting incomplete or incorrect applications for financial aid opportunities is one of the most common, and most costly, errors in the financial aid process. She says it's worth the extra time to double-check financial aid applications to make sure all questions are answered completely and correctly.
Most importantly, don't forget to sign the aid application and keep copies of all material submitted, in case questions must be referenced later.
Don't expect results too quickly. Applicants should receive responses concerning their aid application approximately four to eight weeks after it is mailed. Responding promptly to any inquiries, requests or financial aid offers may maximize eligibility.
Don't Make Assumptions
Valentine encourages students and parents to contact the financial aid offices of the schools they're interested in with any questions concerning the financial aid process. Since applicants must annually reapply for financial aid, it is unwise to assume aid from one year to the next will be automatically renewed.
Look For Outside Scholarship Sources
High school guidance counselors and parents' employers are good resources for finding out about scholarships sponsored by various individuals and organizations. Among the free Internet sources of information about outside scholarships is www.fastweb.com.
For many students, financial aid is the most important step in finalizing a college decision. College is a lifetime investment, and financial aid is designed to make that investment more affordable.
For more information on financial aid, contact Valentine in the Office of Financial Assistance at 749-2164 (locally), 800-383-2821, ext. 2164 (toll-free) or call the Department of Education at 1-800-433-3243.