The process of applying for financial aid can heap more stress atop an already trying period of time for many high school students. However, if done correctly, financial aid applications can be completed without stress. The months leading up to your freshman year of college will whiz by, and it can seem like there’s not enough time to do everything. Because of this feeling, it is important to plan ahead, knowing exactly when your deadlines are for each step of the financial aid process.
Many students have asked the question, “When, exactly, should I apply for financial aid?” The truth of the matter is that there’s no hard-and-fast answer. Depending on your schedule and personal financial standing, you may want to apply as soon as possible, or you may be able to wait for a longer amount of time. Looking at the facts and statistics will help you and your family reach a decision.
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What you should first consider:
The first thing you should consider is that financial aid is generally split into two categories; private loans or the federal government’s FAFSA program. Private financial aid has a myriad of sources, and it’s possible to receive aid from more than one. You can receive financial help from community organizations, large corporations, or your chosen school itself. For private aid, it’s probably better to wait until you’ve decided on a college so you can lay all your possibilities in front of you. On the other hand, if you’re planning to go through FAFSA, your options are a bit more open.
FAFSA forms have historically been posted on January 1 of the applying year, but recently, this date was bumped up to October 1. This means that students have been able to apply for financial aid for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year since October 1, 2016. If, upon reading that, you started to freak out and think you were behind schedule, relax. FAFSA, as a federal program, is need-based, so as long as you turn in your form before the 2017-2018 deadline. This deadline varies by state, and you can find out your deadline via this handy website (.)
When should you be applying for aid then?
So, to review, you’ve established that FAFSA forms are available for you to fill out and you know the date they’re due. Now that you know the basics, you can discern when you should apply for aid. As a general rule, you won’t actually receive any money until you’ve enrolled at a college. You can apply any time, even before you’ve chosen a school, but funds won’t be transferred until you’ve made it official. Since students have different timelines of receiving acceptance letters, this is where your personal state’s deadline comes in. If you notice that your deadline is looming and you still haven’t received a letter of acceptance from your top school, you should fill out your FAFSA as soon as possible regardless.
Applying for financial aid is completely within your control, while receiving an acceptance letter in the mail is not. Personally, I prefer to complete the parts of a process I can control as soon as possible. As we figured out earlier, when it comes to federal aid, you do not have to be enrolled in a school to apply for funds, but you do have to be enrolled to receive the funds. There’s no harm in completing the FAFSA process as early as possible, as long as you’re certain of your choice to apply for federal aid.
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