Late winter brings the last minute flurry of forms in hopes of an acceptance letter from the college of your choice. If you’re fortunate enough to already have your acceptance letter in hand, your thoughts should next be on how to pay for school. Many financial aid deadlines fall between late February and mid-March so now is the time for you to get your act together quickly. The Federal deadline is June 30th, but that’s really too late to get all your forms submitted so you can have the most options available to you to help finance your education. Many scholarships will have already been awarded, so take the early bird gets the worm approach and file now.
Here are the steps you must be taking this month – frankly as soon as possible – to ensure you can finance your education in the smartest way possible:
1) Don’t Procrastinate – Apply for Financial Aid Now
Complete your FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Aid) and CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service) as soon as possible if you haven’t already done so. The FAFSA deadline for Fall 2013 is June 30, but leaving it that long will cut you out of many financial aid opportunities including scholarships and grants. Both of these forms are online and if you need help, your high school or college guidance counselor can be a great resource.
2) Don’t Drop the Ball on High School
Just because you have a college acceptance letter in hand doesn’t mean you can let your high school academics slide. Your final grades matter. And if you’re in AP classes, you’ll need all of the knowledge you can gather to pass your exams for course credit. If you prioritize partying over your final grades, your acceptance letter could be withdrawn, scholarships taken back or you could be wait-listed and your guaranteed spot given away. And don’t forget, you’ll never be in high school again, so it’s important to treasure and share every moment possible!
3) Don’t Wait for Financial Aid to Find You
If you think completing your FAFSA and CSS are enough, think again. There are tons of scholarships out there and a great many that go unawarded each year. Many corporations offer scholarships, there are school specific scholarships, major specific scholarships, scholarships for certain demographics, scholarships through your parents’ employers and many more. But these scholarships aren’t going to find you – that’s your job. Call your guidance counselor, get online and research scholarships and apply, apply, apply – that’s the way to find all the financial aid you can.
4) Don’t Let Admissions Offices Forget You
If you’re still waiting on an acceptance letter, now is no time to be shy. Contact the admissions office and ask if they need any more information from you. Schedule a campus visit and make sure to make an appointment at the admissions office while you’re there so you can tell them how much you like the campus and how excited you are. By staying in contact and displaying your enthusiasm, you may get a slot ahead of someone they haven’t heard from even if your grades are not as good…
If you are on top of all of these tasks, now is the time to sit down and put together your financial plans. Look at how much you can get in scholarships and grants, how much your parents are planning to contribute and how much you may need to borrow to attend the college of your choice. Unless your parents are rolling in dough, you will have a budget to contend with and it’s best not to get in over your head with too little planning and too much debt. Consider consulting a student loan expert from the start so you can ensure you’re getting the most from your financial aid experience.