Tips for a Successful Application

Seven Ways to Make the Financial Aid Application Process Easier… and More Successful!

Start early.

Most schools’ websites and admissions materials offer a step-by-step guide to their financial aid process. Look especially for the deadlines—and don’t miss them. Do not wait until after receiving an admission decision to ask for financial aid; it may be too late at that point to start the aid process and funding could be spent at many schools.

Do not miss the deadlines.

If you don’t know the timeline, ask. Note the difference between the deadlines for admission applications and financial aid applications.

Just as each school has its own process and policies, each has its own unique deadlines. That said, the following will give you a general idea of what happens when.

  • September or October in the year before you want to start in the new school: Begin your school search.
  • November or December: Begin the financial aid application process.
  • January or early February: Your admission applications are due.
  • January or February: Your financial aid applications are due.
  • Late February or early March: Schools send out admission decisions.
  • March or April: Schools send out financial aid decisions.
  • April, May, June: Schools require your final enrollment decision, tuition deposit to reserve a spot in the class

What about schools with rolling admissions?

Some schools don’t set one admission deadline but continue to accept applications until their classes are filled. Ask them about their financial aid timeline and expectations.

Again: Contact individual schools for exact deadlines. Each school’s deadlines really are different!

Be precise.

For example, make sure your name on your Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS) appears exactly the way your name appears on tax documents, which you will likely be asked by schools to submit as well.

Check with each school.

Check with each school about what to submit in your financial aid application. Requirements vary from school to school. Some want to see your income tax return; others have additional forms if you own a business or farm. After you complete your Parents’ Financial Statement (PFS), make sure you also submit any required materials.

Many schools require that you submit current year tax documents as part of your financial aid application. Schools understand that these documents may not be available until mid-February at the earliest. Just be sure to be aware of the schools’ deadlines and to meet them.

Be honest with financial aid staff.

Feel free to call financial aid directors, develop a relationship, and be open about the information the schools need to make good decisions.

Ask questions.

Ask questions that will give you a sense of what kind of aid you might receive. For example, ask:

  • What percentage of students receive financial aid?
  • Does the school require a minimum contribution from families? Or can financial aid cover all school costs?
  • What is the school’s average grant?
  • If your child receives financial aid for one year, what is the school’s policy for granting aid in the following years?
  • If you are separated or divorced, how does the school evaluate your family’s financial status and ability to pay?
  • What options exist if you don’t get the aid you need?
  • What costs do you need to plan for in addition to tuition? Likely additional costs include fees, books, supplies, uniforms, trips, transportation, clubs, and sports.
Make good use of your waiting time.

After you turn in your financial aid applications and before you hear back from the school, check to make sure all your materials have arrived and your situation is clear. If the school(s) to which you applied asked you to submit required documents to SSS, you can check on the status of the receipt of those documents.

Keep researching other sources of money in case you don’t receive the full amount to meet your financial need. For example, consider loans or contributions from friends or family members who might be willing to help out.

What if you’re still just not sure whether to go through the aid process… or if you think you might not qualify?

To get a sense of your family’s prospects, contact the admissions or financial aid professionals at the schools you’re interested in. They will be able to provide guidance that’s appropriate for your circumstances. But don’t be surprised if each school offers a different funding strategy and aid policy. That’s why you need to ask each about the specifics of its various options and see how these options fit within your financial planning. Whether you qualify for financial aid or not, keep in mind that other financing options exist. These include tuition loan programs, payment plans, and other personal finance alternatives such as home-equity loans or lines of credit, which many families use to fill gaps that their available income or savings can’t meet. (Click here to read about The Five Main Types of Financial Aid.) It’s always a good idea, as with any major investment, to check with a financial advisor on the best strategies you might use to manage school costs, given your resources and family goals.