When to Apply

When do you start looking for financial aid? The easy answer is to start looking as soon as possible. However, another question may be how late can you start to look and not be too late? The answer to that is early January in the year the student will enter college. January 1st is the first day students can file the FAFSA and it's only eight months before their freshman year at college begins.

January - Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

What You Need To Apply

The FAFSA is an application that asks for a wide range of financial information about the student and their parents. You will need information on your family's income and information on your assets including stocks, bonds, savings, and investments. If your income information is incomplete, you can estimate as much as you have and amend the application later after you send it in. College financial aid offices can change information directly and electronically after it's received.

The student also needs a good idea of where they are sending applications and what program of study they are going to enter (e.g., four-year, associate degree, etc.). On the applications, students may list several different schools who they want to receive the information on the FAFSA. After the U.S. Department of Education processes the application, each of the schools is then sent the information with the department's calculation of demonstrated eligibility for financial aid.

In about two weeks, the student should receive a letter from the Department of Education confirming that they received the application and are processing it. Now you can start the next step.

February - Applying for Financial Aid

You should apply for admission, financial aid, and scholarships at the same time. You do not have to wait until you receive confirmation the Department of Education has received and processed your FAFSA information.

The cut-off date for preferential consideration is March 1st at many schools, so it's very important to send in the FAFSA and have your applications prepared by February. There may be money available after March, but most of the non-loan money is given out quickly.