When people find out I used to be a financial aid adviser, I usually have to answer a lot of questions about financial aid. Many are unrealistic ones about how to go to school for free without really trying. Unfortunately, I’m not a miracle worker—as my friend and her daughter recently learned when they grilled me for FAFSA help.
Given that it is peak financial aid season, I thought I would share with you what I shared with them. It’s my most common (and best) advice for any financial aid question: “apply, apply a lot, apply early, and apply on time.” Let me break this down:
Apply, Apply A Lot
Many people skip the FAFSA because they think they won’t qualify for aid. I don’t care how much money you and/or your family have. You don’t know what you’re eligible for until you apply. Period.
Many forms of financial aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So, your grandmother was right in this case—the early bird does catch the worm. Federal work-study, Perkins loans, many institutional grants and loans, and most certainly state grants fall into this category. The later you apply, the less aid you will likely qualify for.
Apply On Time
Many students fall victim to what I call “I didn’t know there was a separate deadline” syndrome. Unless you wait until the last day of classes to apply, your federal Stafford loan and Pell grant eligibility isn’t in jeopardy. That’s not the case with other types of financial aid.
Most states that offer need-based grants have their deadlines posted on the FAFSA site. Don’t assume that by applying by your school’s priority filing deadline that you have also met your state’s deadline or any other financial aid deadline for that matter. Be sure you know all your important deadlines.
So, now that you know about my (shameful?) past, what questions do you have about applying for financial aid?