Know Your FAFSA and Common App Deadlines

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Does it seem like your senior year of high school just started and there is too much to do already? As of the fall of 2016, it's even busier for students who want to be in college at that time next year. The Common Application, or Common App, came online August 1, 2016. In its first year, it will be used by almost 700 colleges to judge student’s academic qualifications and personal characteristics.

Also on October 1, 2016, the early FAFSA  debuted.

Early Application Deadlines May Be Even Earlier

This could alter the scheduling of the traditional admissions process. In some cases, it still makes sense to apply first, and file the FAFSA second. But other families might be better off completing the FAFSA as early as possible, even if the student has not made a final college selection. The new process is being worked out, as some colleges continue to maintain financial aid deadlines while others have elected to move up these dates so they can send out financial aid award letters earlier.

Students who are submitting early action and early decision applications might find themselves in a time crunch trying to complete both in a limited amount of time. It is crucial to check each college’s website for application and financial aid deadlines, especially this year. Plan to submit your information several days in advance of the actual deadline in case you omit something or make a mistake.

Put those target dates on a big calendar or in a digital app, and start working backward to figure out what you need to do now.

First Steps With FAFSA

At the very least with the FAFSA, you should acquire an FSA ID and start gathering documentation so you will be prepared if you have an early financial aid deadline to meet.

There is one piece of good news in this year of change. If you and your parents have already filed your prior year federal income tax returns, you will be able to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) on the FAFSA, so that should actually save you a little bit of time.

Tips for Using the Common App

Here are some considerations to keep in mind with this year’s Common App:

  • Review the essay prompts: This is a big part of the application process. If you have not already started to outline your thoughts regarding these essays, it is time to do so now. Take a look at the essay prompts for this year’s Common App to get your creative juices flowing. Make sure you don’t exceed the given word count for your essays.
  • Gather general information: You’ll need your high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, list of extracurricular activities, test scores, and parent or legal guardian information. It’s easier to gather this in advance, instead of trying to do it as you are filling out the application.
  • Check individual school requirements: Most components of the Common App are, of course, common to all the colleges on the list. But there may be some individual requirements for your specific college or field of study. Use the available Requirements Grid and Requirements Tracker to keep track of everything you need to submit and the deadlines by when each element is required.
  • Use the scholarships link: This information is used to evaluate your eligibility for scholarships at each school. But you also have the ability to receive information from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation’s Scholar Snapp program. You will have the option to copy your Common App scholarship information into their website so that you can send this one application to a whole list of scholarship opportunities. You don’t need to select this option, and there is no penalty for saying “no,” but it could make your scholarship search much easier.
  • Watch the fees: Although the Common App itself is free, you may be charged an application fee by each individual college. If your family will have difficulty paying these fees, select “yes” on the Common App Fee Waiver tab and be prepared to provide sufficient supporting documentation.