Think back to your first experience with a financial aid office. There was a line right?
A line out the door, wrapped around the building, and very impatient? That is what I remember. Worse than the DMV? You bet.
If you are one of the fortunate few who answered no to that question (or you have not yet been to your college campus), then please let me invite you to visit any college campus on the first day of class and swing by the Financial Aid office. Not a pretty picture. Hundreds of people trying to get money for college.
You will be greeted by unhappy students who are standing in long lines only to be told by the financial aid office that “Oh I am sorry, you will need to complete form “x and y” and bring them back to us”. This also coincides with the stressful start of a new semester, and the hottest part of the year…August.
As unfortunate and all to common this problem is, there are ways to avoid this humiliation.
Submit your FAFSA by February 1st.
If you plan to enroll in college in August, then you should submit your FAFSA (free Application for Federal Student Aid) by February 1st. The earliest deadline I have ever seen for financial aid applications is February 15th, so if you make it in by February 1st, you will be well ahead of any deadline.
“But I have not even filed my taxes yet!” It is true that you need your taxes, and probably your parent’s tax returns, to complete the FAFSA. However, you are able to submit your FAFSA to your school using estimated figures.
This allows your school to give you credit based on your date of submission for priority and first come first serve grants and scholarships.
This also will give you plenty of time to follow up on your application and ensure that it is completed well before the start of school.
Return Verification Paperwork ASAP
There is a nasty little process that the Department of Education likes to do called Verification. This is simply an audit of your FAFSA. The word audit likely causes some people to cringe, and with good reason, especially when it concerns applying for money for college.
The verification process can be as simple as requesting a copy of your tax documents with an easy worksheet, or it can be complex as requiring court documents, citizenship verification, and legal paperwork.
Regardless of what was requested, you will need to return everything back to your financial aid office AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This is because once your financial aid office processes this paperwork, it is actually sent back to the Department of Education for verification. Once you submit the paperwork, it could take 4-6 weeks to complete. Not exactly where you want to be on the first day of classes.
I would also recommend making copies of every document that you turn in. Financial Aid professionals are human after all, and we all know we cannot trust good ‘ol USPS.
Know the Rules
Finally, it really just pays to understand how the process works. If you know that your financial aid is going to be late, or you know that you are waiting to get approved for a student loan that has not come through, call your financial aid office and discuss your options.
However, you need to do this well before the first day of classes. Your school will be willing to work with you, but not unless you are proactive.
If you know that there is an upcoming deadline, then do not wait until the last minute. Waiting until the last minute is the reason all of the lines are so long in the first place!
So, please, save yourself the time, frustration, and humiliation of standing in the financial aid line to be told to “go home, and come again another day”.
Know the rules, be prepared, and you will be able to walk past those long lines next year with a smile on your face.