Few words can strike more fear in a current or future college student than the term “financial aid.” Unfamiliar and downright confusing to most, it can be tempting to just ignore the whole financial aid process in hopes that it will just go away. This thinking can put students and their families in a sticky situation once the actual deadlines come around and they find themselves even more unprepared than they previously thought.
Here are some simple tips to help keep track of financial aid deadlines (which are often specific to where you live and where you are attending school), and stay on track during the financial aid process.
1.Double (and triple and quadruple) check deadlines.
One of the worst things a student can do is miss a financial aid deadline due to careless oversight. Failure to meet a deadline can cause a decrease in the amount of available funds and decrease the entire financial aid package that the student receives. To keep track of all the deadlines, you should check for specific dates listed on FAFSA.gov, your school’s financial aid website and any other sources of financial aid you anticipate receiving well before the actual deadlines. This will give you ample time to complete the forms and check them over in order to submit them before the deadline. Since all deadlines should be posted and easily accessible on the Internet, there is no excuse for not knowing when forms are due.
Additionally, it can never hurt to double check a deadline if you are unsure, this is definitely a better option than assuming the wrong date and ending up submitting forms late. When it comes to deadlines, especially those involving money and your education, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
2. Figure out who’s doing what (parents, guardians, you, etc.).
A way to make sure you stay on track is to begin with a solid plan of who is responsible for completing certain tasks during the financial aid process. It may not be possible to map everything out until you’ve gone through the process several times (or know someone else who has, like a sibling), but you should at least know what forms you are expected to submit and who will be filling them out.
Ideally, you will be at least somewhat involved in your own financial aid process (since you are in college or will be soon) so it can be helpful to coordinate with your parents or guardians about what is expected of you when it comes to filling out forms and providing information about income, taxes, etc. This is also a good time to go over deadlines so that everyone is on the same page and knows what the time frame is for completing the necessary paper work.
3. Set reminders and alarms (set them early and often).
You can easily set email and phone reminders for financial aid deadlines through Google Calendar or other apps. Set multiple reminders so that you know that a particular deadline is approaching at least a month in advance. Additionally, writing down deadlines, on sticky notes around your room/desk or in an actual planner can help you keep upcoming deadlines in mind. Just remember to actually act on the reminders and not just silence them to deal with later!
4. Make a checklist (and actually use it)
When filling out a form, make a checklist of all the information you need to collect and other documents you need in order to complete it. You can also add the different sections that you need to complete. As you are filling out the form, check things off on your checklist as you complete them. Not only will this make you feel even more productive, it will also help you to see what else you need to do and where you might run into problems as you complete the form.
Overall, if you do your research, figure out a plan, set reminders, and make a checklist you can easily stay on top of your financial aid deadlines. This will make the process much more manageable and much less stressful than scrambling to hastily fill out financial aid forms right before the deadline.