When Should I Start Looking for College Financial Aid?
Apr 27, 2012
One of the first questions you'll probably ask yourself while looking at colleges is 'How am I going to pay for all this?' Financial aid can be a real help, but when is the best time to start applying? No matter what stage you are at in your college process, now is still the time to look at financial aid. You might be surprised at what's open to you.
Before You Apply
Even though you haven't picked out a college yet, that doesn't mean you don't have to start looking for financial aid options. Many scholarships are available to students still in high school if they have particular talents. Do a search of the Internet, making sure not to leave out social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, for scholarships that might suit you. If you're crafty, you can make a duct tape prom dress. If you're a great mimic, try your hand at the turkey calling scholarship. Some of these options may require time to plan, build, practice and write, so knowing way before deadlines what you're going to shoot for is beneficial.
After You're Accepted
Congratulations! You've gotten into a college. Now you have a whole new range of financial aid options. Some outside scholarships won't let you apply until you've been accepted somewhere or have been accepted to a particular type of school. Check to see if you fit into any new specific scholarship guidelines. Besides outside scholarships, you can now find out what sort of money is available to you directly through your school. If you have special circumstances or are from a family that's low on cash, the school will likely have some need-based financial aid available. They may also have scholarships or work study programs that you can apply for to help you along the way, so make sure you ask your admissions advisor about these options. Now is also the time to turn in your FAFSA to see if the government will help cover you to some degree. If there are loans that have upcoming deadlines, it doesn't hurt to apply to those as well.
After You Graduate
Again, congratulations! You've just finished high school. Even though it's time to celebrate, don't forget about how you'll be paying for college. Right about now you'll be finding out what scholarships you got and which you didn't. You'll also be finding out if you qualified for any federal loans or grants from your FAFSA. Add up whatever help you'll be getting and then it's time to start looking again. If you don't have anything at all or think there will be big gaps, look into loans either through the school or from private groups. If there are smaller gaps that need filling, seek out scholarships that can help in little ways or seem fairly easy to enter for. Some scholarships aren't even available until a student graduates, so there will be a whole new list of places for you to apply.
Once You're In College
So you've figured out how to pay for college. You're settling down, finding out how this whole thing works and studying hard. Some more money to help with schooling wouldn't hurt, right? As you select your major, pass hard classes and establish a GPA, still more scholarship options will open up to you. If you're planning on studying abroad, there may be scholarships specifically for people going to different countries. If you plan to be a biology major, there may be companies that want to give you some extra cash to help you on the way. Also, if your GPA is higher in college than it was in high school, your college may be willing to raise your financial aid or offer you merit-based funding.
It may seem like there's never a bad time to search for financial aid. That's not far from the truth. No matter what phase you're at, someone out there is offering money for someone like you. You could get it because you don't have much money, because you're talented, because you graduated or because you have good grades. The options are nearly endless. All you have to do is start looking today.
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