The Financial Aid Timeline

If you are tackling the college financial aid process for the first time (or even second or third), and just don’t know where to begin, look no further!

If you are tackling the college financial aid process for the first time (or even second or third), and just don’t know where to begin, look no further! Below I’ve outlined my ideal “timeline” to help you stay on track. I say “timeline” because realistically, not every student fits perfectly within the guidelines.

Some students may need to prepare and submit paperwork very early on (for some first-year Early Decision, or Early Action deadlines). Some families may want to delay the process (a little bit!) if you will be filing taxes late, or are in the middle of selling property, etc. The one point I can’t stress enough for you is, check your college and state priority deadlines!

Federal deadlines remain the same for submitting financial aid paperwork: March 1st for first-year students, and April 1st for returning students. These should be your latest deadlines for filing financial aid, as a rule. However, some colleges and states have earlier deadlines, so you will want to apply by the earliest deadline applicable to you. For information on college deadlines, check your college’s financial aid website. For information on state deadlines, most are listed here: https://studentaid.gov/apply-for-aid/fafsa/fafsa-deadlines#state

Note that ‘priority’ deadlines are ideal, but not necessarily final. Submit by these deadlines to ensure that you will be considered for all aid you are eligible for. You can likely still receive financial aid after the priority deadlines (for instance, the FAFSA and federal forms can be submitted all the way through the school year), but you are no longer guaranteed to receive certain forms of aid, even if you would have been otherwise eligible.

Now that we have considered all the deadlines, see how they line up with my ideal timeline to get you organized, so you can rearrange or plan accordingly. For the most part, submitting paperwork early is generally best, so this timeline should work well for both first-time and returning students. Though, some items may only apply to first-time students (including transfers and first-time grad students), which I have noted.

IDEAL Financial Aid Timeline:

  • July
    • The financial aid-year begins again every July 1st (important for anyone taking summer classes!)
    • Set up, or update Federal Student Aid IDs (as needed)
  • August
    • Have your taxes filed if possible. (If you file by the April deadline, you are all set! Make sure you have a copy of all W-2s and Federal taxes on hand.)
  • September
    • Confirm your current asset information and have that readily-available
    • First-time students should have a solid or final college list (you may always add colleges to financial aid forms, but you need something to start with!)
  • October
    • The FAFSA and most financial aid forms become available every year on October 1st.
    • FAFSA is likely the first form you will want to submit
  • November
    • Complete and submit the CSS Profile if your college requires it
  • December
    • Complete and submit any IDOCs (Institutional Documentation required by colleges that use the Profile and IDOC portal) and Institutional Forms, if your college requires them
  • January
    • Check for Federal Verification, either on your FAFSA SAR, or from your college
      • Complete and submit any additional requirements
    • Review financial aid forms and send any corrections, or significant updates to your college as needed
    • Ensure all forms are submitted to all colleges (first-time students)
  • February/March
    • Submit any Special Circumstance Appeal that may apply to your family
    • Submit an informal request for additional aid if warranted
  • April
    • Receive all Awards by this time (generally, first-time students)
    • Arrange awards for comparison on a spreadsheet, like I shared in a previous post (first-time students)
  • May
    • May 1st: Decision deadline (official commitment needed for first-time students)
    • Accept Awards by May 1st
    • Also confirm any federal loans and complete the Entrance Counseling and Master Promissory Note (first-time students)
  • June
    • Consider out-of-pocket expenses
    • Research loans
  • July/August
    • Receive final bill
    • Apply for any private/additional loans
    • Get ready for the next year to start the process again!

Until Next Time,

Hope Santos, Director of Financial Aid

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