Senior year is full of stressors! Questions I hear from students (and even parents) include, “What should I be doing? When should I be doing it?” When senior year starts, students will start filling out applications, writing essays, and hitting submit to their dream schools. Not long after, they’ll start considering the FAFSA and other means of financial aid to pay for college.
I’ve unofficially named October as “Financial Aid Season” for our high school senior students. The FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) opens October 1 and, usually, students have slowed down on their college applications and shifted their focus towards financial aid.
Here are 4 quick tips regarding the FAFSA.
1- Know when to apply for the FAFSA.
October 1 is not a DEADLINE- it is just when the application opens. (Plan on seeing computer glitches or a slow website if you log in on October 1 to complete it.) Some of the grant money is first-come, first-serve… but it will not be gone immediately. You have plenty of time! You can also apply really late in the year if you want… but the sooner you have it in, the sooner colleges can finalize a financial aid package for you!
2- Know what to expect when you sit down to fill out the FAFSA.
In short, the FAFSA takes a snapshot of a family’s financial situation and determines how much money a family should be able to contribute to a student’s education (according to them). The form can link directly to an IRS retrieval tool making the actual filling out of the form pretty easy (relatively speaking). Everyone has a different family scenario, so I like to refer to the FAQ page or live chat on the site for very specific or personal questions. Read on for a free resource to help prepare students for filling out the FAFSA.
Here is a free financial aid checklist to help you or your student(s) gather everything you need before they sit down and complete the FAFSA. In addition to this quick checklist, a student should also have a basic idea of some schools they’re applying to (they can go in and change these later if needed), have a safe place to save their ID and password (a note in a phone works great!)
3- Know what financial aid scams to avoid.
You should never have to PAY money to fill out the FAFSA… remember that acronym? That first “F” stands for “FREE.” Be sure you’re on the correct government website, and you won’t be scammed! If you have questions about whether a form is legitimate or not, reach out to someone who can help.
4- Ask as many questions as you need to about the FAFSA and financial aid.
Don’t let money stand in the way of you and college. Use the FAFSA helpline, call a college financial aid office, or reach out to your school counselor for an extra set of eyes if something doesn’t make sense. There is no such thing as a dumb question! The process can be very overwhelming if you haven’t done it in a long time or ever!
In October, as a high school counselor, I’m usually holding senior meetings to walk students and families through their post-secondary plans asking questions like “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and determining whether students want to venture down a college, career, or military pathway after high school. I bust out the Senior Year Planning Guide to really help students brainstorm and organize what’s to come for the year and beyond.
The FAFSA doesn’t need to be intimidating! Since you can’t apply before it’s time, just plan on “showing up” in October with the right materials in hand to conquer it!
Download this free FAFSA checklist to keep yourself organized, and join my Counselor Clique for more helpful college tips! If you want more help with the college application process as a whole, be sure to join my College Prep 101: Clueless to Confident waitlist to be the first to hear when doors open next!