It doesn’t matter whether you’re decking the halls, firing up the menorah or howling at the solstice moon, one season that applies to everyone is college application deadline time. And that season is rapidly approaching. A critical part of applying for college is making sure that you have your financial aid application filled out and submitted. Not only should you have this done within the deadline, there are also some reasons for doing so early so that your application crosses the desk(top) of your friendly neighborhood financial aid administrator while he or she is still in a pleasant mood. Once the deadline gets close, they will be harried, busy and tired of getting whining, threatening, begging phone calls from procrastinating students and their procrastinating parents. We want no part of that. So, slam that eggnog, bite the head off your gingerbread man and let’s get to work.
Many have a ballpark date that they give students for having their financial aid applications submitted. For example, I was talking recently with my friends Michelle and Darin, whose daughter Katie was just accepted to Loyola University in Chicago. Loyola’s materials say that “most students” submit their financial aid starting in February. Okay cool. But why compete with “most students” for the attention of overworked financial aid administrators and their work study assistants? Especially if you might need a little extra attention.
In Katie’s case, she could use a leg up in the realm of financial aid. If we talk tuition, alone, she and her parents are staring $32,000 in the face for her first year. The good news is that Katie is awfully bright and was awarded a scholarship which cuts her tuition by almost a third over her four years at Loyola. The less than stellar news is that, although her parents do all right financially, they fall into that wonderful spot where they can’t exactly cover today’s ridiculous college costs but may earn too much for Katie to qualify for a lot of assistance in the way of need-based aid. The family will need to come up with some way to cover the (at least) $80,000 shortfall they are facing over the next four years.
So Katie, now that she’s been accepted to the school that she wants to attend, is going to start spending a lot of time applying for scholarships. In addition, though, in order to maximize her time, she needs to get an accurate idea of how much help she can count on from federal, state and maybe even additional school aid. She won’t know that until she fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and submits it to Loyola’s financial aid office. Once she does ha, she can sit down with a financial aid counselor and get a realistic idea not only of her need but also of her chances of covering that need. The sooner she knows this, the sooner she can get to work on applying for outside scholarship money and employing short term earning and saving strategies.
If she waits until “most students” start applying, she will just be put put in the pile with everyone else. It’s a critical mass effect: the more applications the office gets, the less time the counselors will have to spend with students and their families, and the dates for advising sessions will get pushed farther out, eating into valuable deadline time. Moreover, if there are any scholarships or aid sources tied to the school that may have a separate deadline, it’s better to know about them sooner.
This year, while the rest of us are roasting chestnuts or copying up to a Yule log, Katie will be hunched over her desk, pen in hand like old Ebeneezer Scrooge (or really more like a laptop in a recliner, but stick with me here — it’s seasonal) filling out her FAFSA, scholarship applications and miserly saving very penny she can put her poor little fingers on. Hopefully the ghost of college future will visit her this year and take some worry away.