Under the old financial aid timeline, there used to be a frenzy of activity during the months from January through April in the student’s senior year of high school. Now, with the new timeline of the October FAFSA, there is more likely to be a rush of activity from September through December of that high school year.
Although it is still possible to file the FAFSA through the end of June, this is one activity that really should be checked off the to-do list much earlier in the year now.
Submitting the FAFSA as early as possible is still the best way to make sure your student receives the maximum amount of financial aid possible.
After Filing the FAFSA
Congratulations are in order if you are one of the families that have already completed all the college applications and filed the FAFSA. You have made substantial progress in achieving that goal of securing a college education for your child. With all the earlier hub-bub, though, the winter/spring calendar months can feel like a bit of a let-down. It may seem like you have done all you need to do, but there are still several tasks that need to be completed before you can completely relax:
Finalizing a College Choice
Unless your child has already accepted an early decision or early action admissions offer, you still need to finalize the college choice. Most colleges allow you until May 1 to make this decision, but be sure that yours is no different. If you have all the information in hand, you need to sit down as a family and make a very reasoned college choice.
Follow Through on Financial Aid
Since financial aid is a critical component that helps most families pay for college, you cannot slack off in your attention to this area. If you have not yet heard from a college, check your e-mail or their online portal to see if they need any additional information from you. Take a brief look at the financial aid offers as they are received to make sure they are in line with what you were expecting. If not, you may need to contact the school’s financial aid office to determine if there is some discrepancy.
Calculate College Costs
Once you have all of your financial aid awards in order, you can calculate what your out-of-pocket costs will be to attend each college selected. This is often the point where financial reality begins to set in, as families now have an actual number they need to confront. This may be unsettling as the amount will either have to come from family savings or student loans. It might be time to have a serious “money talk” with your student regarding how much money the family can afford to spend on college.
Survey Your Student Loan Situation
If student loans will be a part of your future, you need to start learning about them now. Study the differences between federal and private student loans, and do your research to make sure you are getting the best possible combination for your specific situation. June is too late to do proper planning, and you may be forced to take a loan package that is not in your best financial interests.
Search for Scholarships
The search for scholarships should be an ongoing activity. They offer a tremendous way to lower out-of-pocket costs and can reduce the amount of money you will need to borrow. There are scholarships available for just about anything you can think of, but you need to do the work to find them.
Start Preparing to Be a College Student
If the financial aid details are all in place, you can work to prepare your student to become a college freshman. Talk about credit and debt, and work out a budget worksheet that you can all live by.
Finish High School Strong
The senior should still work towards having a strong finish to the academic year. Many come down with a case of senioritis and start slacking off on activities or academics. Colleges can and do look at final year results, and have been known to rescind an offer if they are not pleased with what they see.