When to Start Thinking About Financial Aid

Get a head start on preparing for the financial aid process to reap big rewards.

By Sydney Nikols | February 17, 2017

In order to give yourself the best shot at being able to pay for college, start managing your finances with the future in mind.
Photo: Thinkstock

It’s never too early to start thinking about financial aid. In fact, the earlier you start looking ahead, the better a shot you’ll have at affording your dream school. Take these three steps in order to make sure you’re fully prepared to ask for aid.

Remember, it’s never too early (or too late!) to start saving a certain amount of money per month to put towards your college fund.

1. Manage your finances.

In order to give yourself the best shot at being able to pay for college, start managing your finances with the future in mind. First, decide whether you’re aiming to attend a relatively affordable public institution or a more expensive private school. Then, research ballpark figures for each type of school (keeping in mind that out-of-state public schools can be just as expensive as private schools). Finally, use this approximate number to inform how you manage your money. Conduct your family finances wisely and avoid large expenses like costly car leases, big home improvement projects and expensive vacations -- spending money on these non-essentials will only deplete your hard-earned college savings.

Remember, it’s never too early (or too late!) to start saving a certain amount of money per month to put towards your college fund. You can also consider taking on a part-time job in order to have extra cash to put towards your education, particularly if your parents are struggling to put aside enough money for you to go to college.

2. Seek out scholarships early and often.

For the most part, you can’t actually apply to scholarships until your senior year of high school. However, some scholarships are available to younger students, encouraging them to put aside the cash until college. For instance, students between the ages of 6 (yes, 6) and 18 who are passionate about community service can be nominated for the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program, which gives winners $1,000 to put towards college expenses. The MathMovesU Scholarship offers 150 math-minded middle school students $1,000 as well, also to put towards their college savings. And six young environmentalists (ages 13 to 22) will receive $3,000 along with a Brower Youth Award for their impressive environmental projects or campaigns.

In addition to applying to scholarships you are currently eligible for, you can also begin researching scholarships to apply to in the future. Scholarships can be based on a range of qualifications like merit, race, religion, unique circumstances and special talents. If you know what kinds of scholarships are available, you can begin bolstering your resume in order to be a prime candidate for certain scholarships when the time comes to apply.

Use our free scholarship search engine in order to find some scholarships that might be right for you. You may find that you’re qualified for some unique scholarships that you never knew existed. And there are plenty of scholarships that are so easy to apply for, it’s absolutely worth the time to do so – even small scholarship awards can add up to big money.

In addition to applying to scholarships you are currently eligible for, you can also begin researching scholarships to apply to in the future.

3. Apply for aid as early as possible.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website states the following: “Because aid is often limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is important to file your FAFSA as soon as possible and be at the front of the line for student aid dollars.” In other words, the earlier you fill out your FAFSA forms asking for federal aid, the better. Consider using FAFSA First in order to fill out your FAFSA forms before the annual January deadline. This will give you a head start on understanding how much aid you are eligible for, allowing you to manage your finances accordingly.

By taking these three steps, you can ensure that you’re prepared to tackle the financial aid process when the time comes…and possibly score some early awards in the meantime.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

10 Reasons to Take a Gap Year
What To Do If You Can’t Afford Your Dream School
How Special Circumstances Can Affect Your Financial Aid Package
California: Community College to 4-Year College Transfer Agreements (IGETC)

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