Don’t wait too long to request college financial aid

by Grace

SmartMoney‘s 10 Things Financial Aid Offices Won’t Say is a gold mine of wisdom for families seeking financial aid.  The entire list is good, but the first item is particularly timely.

1. “You waited until April? Sorry, we gave your money away.”

At first glance, the amount of financial aid available to students seems like a goldmine. According to the College Board, graduate and undergraduate students received more than $168 billion in aid during the 2008-09 academic year; more than $109 billion came from the federal government alone not including education tax benefits. But thanks to the down economy, competition for that money is expected to be tougher for the coming year. Don’t miss out on aid because of confusing deadlines for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Available at fafsa.ed.gov, the form must be completed to be considered for government grants and loans and both the government and prospective schools will review it. The federal deadline on the form is June 30, 2011, but schools’ financial aid deadlines listed in the colleges’ materials are as early as this February.

“Families need to submit their financial aid info as soon as they can after Jan. 1, preceding the student’s freshman year,” says Barry Simmons, director of university scholarships and financial aid at Virginia Tech. While the FAFSA asks for the previous year’s tax information a common reason parents postpone applying until April parents can estimate tax figures based on last year’s return and update them later.

A financial aid administrator posting on CollegeConfidential puts it this way.

Aid is limited, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I would tell you that.

Another reminder that January is a good time to file your FAFSA.

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