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Applying for Financial Aid: When, Where & How

Applying for financial aid can be as complicated as applying for a degree program, but it's a crucial part of getting your education. Most schools recommend applying for financial aid at least three months before you plan on entering school, but narrowing down your list of schools can be time consuming. To get a head start, consider beginning your financial aid application process before you decide on your schools.

Subject

FAFSA

When you apply for financial aid, you'll need to fill out the U.S. Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can be filled out as early as October of the year before you are attending college. The application form will ask you for a list of schools, but you can always send your information to more schools after you've made your final decision.

The FAFSA provides you with your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the amount of money the government thinks you can afford to pay for tuition. You can use the EFC Calculator to get an estimate of your EFC before you start applying. The EFC can help you adjust your income and save for school.

Deadlines

Deadlines allow schools to distribute limited funds and to award their funding in time for students to make educated decisions. Although the deadline for the FAFSA is usually the end of June, deadline dates for individual schools and state funding are usually much earlier. Some schools also have a priority date, which allows you to be considered for financial aid before later applicants.

It's extremely important to check the deadline dates for school and state funding. Even if you haven't finalized your list of schools, try to get your financial aid application in by the earliest date listed. If you miss your school or state deadline, don't panic. Remember that you can still apply for federal funding.

Outside Funding

Another option in the search for financial aid is outside funding. Scholarships are available from a variety of businesses, charities, and community organizations. You can start applying for outside funding even if you haven't decided on your schools yet.

When it comes to financial aid, the earlier you get started the better. By getting a head start on the application process, you can get priority funding and make better decisions on how to plan for your education.

Sources
EFC Calculator
U.S. Department of Education FAFSA