When Do I Begin the College Financial Aid Process?

The number one question we are asked by almost everyone is “when do we begin the financial aid process?”  Preferably, the process should begin when the student is in their junior year of high school.  Many families get hit with the reality of college in the senior year of high school and this is fine, however, it is important to note that the base year starts January 1 of the student’s junior year.  The base year is the year that sets the tone for all four years of college financial aid.  This is the most important year!  Ideally, any changes that need to be made should be done early in the base year, if not sooner (especially if there are assets in the student’s name).  Applications for financial aid are filed in the student’s senior year.

There are two main forms that need to be filed for college financial aid and this is a separate process from applying for admission:

  • CSS PROFILE  is an application service for the College Board.  Member colleges, universities, and scholarship programs use the information collected on PROFILE to help them award nonfederal student aid funds.  Many of these schools are the pricier private schools but are often the most generous. The majority of the time these awards are in the form of grants which is money that does not get paid back. This form can be filed online as early as October 1.
  • FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is processed by the U.S. Department of Education and qualifies families for loans, grants and federal work study programs.  These monies are distributed from federal funds and this application can be filed as early as January 1. The FAFSA is required by every school.

Each school will have their own deadlines for when these forms are due so it is important to check with the schools on your list and note these dates. Regardless, you want to get these forms submitted as early as possible and keep yourself organized.  As consultants, we do all of this work for our clients and I can say from our professional experience…the earlier the better!!!

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