Check Off Your To-Do List during Financial Aid Awareness Month

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November is financial aid awareness month. But what does it mean to be aware of financial aid? It means clicking off the to-do’s on your list of ways to pay for college.

All high school students
While most action items for financial aid apply to high school seniors, there are several steps that all high school students can take. First is to focus on building up the criteria that will qualify you later for scholarships and grants. Work hard on your grades and in the classes you are taking, and find extracurricular activities and community service projects. You can potentially earn scholarship money for both. You should also be putting every dollar you can into a savings account for college – every penny counts.

High school seniors
If you are a high school senior, your list is a little bit longer than the already mentioned items. In addition to those items, you also need to be working on your actual applications and determining a budget for college.

  • The most important application you need to complete is the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step towards earning federal and state aid, and in many cases the FAFSA is required for scholarships and aid provided by the college you attend. Visit www.FAFSA.gov to file the FAFSA. If you want help, you can take part in a FAFSA Ready Iowa event (www.icansucceed.org/fafsareadyiaevents), which provides free assistance in completing the FAFSA. You can also schedule a free appointment at an ICAN center by visiting www.icansucceed.org/apt. To make sure you are prepared, download a list of the documents you need to complete the FAFSA at www.icansucceed.org/whattobring.
  • Following the FAFSA, you need to be working on scholarship applications. As a senior you should talk to your school counselor about local scholarship applications. Also check with each college you have applied to about their scholarship process. Some colleges have a separate application for each scholarship; some have one form for all their opportunities, and some make the admission application the scholarship application as well. You need to clarify what additional steps you need to take at the colleges you are considering to make sure you take advantage of every opportunity available.

After local and institutional scholarships it’s time to start hitting the web. Visit www.icansucceed.org/scholarships to explore an online database and to take a look at a list of recommended scholarship search sites. You should also register for Raise.Me, which provides micro-scholarships to different colleges based on things you’ve done throughout high school such as taking certain courses, participating in extra-curricular activities, or attending an ICAN event.

  • The last, and perhaps most important, aspect of preparing for college financially is creating a budget. Your budget will help you determine how much you can afford based on current circumstances, as well as your future potential earnings. Your future career’s starting salary is your budget for student debt. You should not borrow more than you will make in your first year. Keep this figure in mind as you explore colleges and evaluate prices and award packages to keep you on the right track for a successful, financial future.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

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What to Know About Financial Aid This November

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Download this infographic as a PDF.

With the earlier availability of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad recently proclaimed November as Financial Aid Awareness Month. Now is an ideal time for high school seniors and current college students to organize financial aid applications for the upcoming academic year.

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Gov. Branstad signing the November Financial Aid Awareness Month Proclamation in October.

Here’s what you should know about financial aid this month:

Total College Costs
You should be able to determine average costs for the upcoming school year by using your college’s website. Look for cost of attendance, which should include tuition, fees, room and board expenses for in-state and out-of-state students. You should also take into account variable costs such as transportation, books, personal and other expenses.

Types of Financial Aid
Some financial aid is awarded by colleges, some by the federal government and some by state agencies. Other aid includes scholarships awarded by private and community organizations, as well as your own and your family’s earnings and savings.

Learn more about the types of financial aid.

Each type of institutional and governmental aid is awarded after you fill out appropriate financial aid applications.

How to Apply for Aid
The FAFSA is the most commonly used application for financial aid. Use this checklist of items needed to complete the FAFSA to make sure you have all the appropriate information on hand. Before you begin, be sure you and your parents both request an FSA ID.

Your school may also ask you to complete the CSS Financial Aid Profile or another form to apply for financial aid from the school. These forms may ask for additional financial information or documentation not reflected on the FAFSA.

When to Apply for Aid
The FAFSA became available Oct. 1, so you can complete that any time, even if you are a currently a high school senior and unsure of your final college selection. You can list up to 10 schools on the FAFSA. You should try to submit the FAFSA and any other required forms as early as possible, but check the schools’ websites for information on priority aid deadlines and deadlines for scholarship consideration. Some aid is limited, so the earlier the better.

How to Get Help
Several online tips and resources are available for the FAFSA and for the CSS Financial Aid Profile if you get stuck while filling out the forms.

In addition, you can receive free assistance in Iowa. You may make an appointment at one of the Iowa College Access Network locations across the state for a personal session. The FAFSA Ready Iowa program also offers many free events staffed by volunteer experts in the financial aid community for families who prefer to drop in.

What Happens After You File
Your financial aid application will be processed to determine the aid available to you. Your school will provide a financial aid award packet that offers grants, work-study, scholarships and federal loans, as applicable.

You can use that information to estimate your total college cost over four years using the College Funding Forecaster.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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It’s Not Too Late: Take Advantage of Financial Aid Options ASAP

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By this time, you’ve probably taken care of your fall 2016 college bill, but if you find yourself struggling to make monthly payments or you’re worried about next semester’s expenses, consider these options.

File the 2016–2017 FAFSA if you haven’t. If you didn’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid after it became available in January, you can still do so. The federal government will accept the FAFSA and consider you for available federal financial aid, like Pell Grants and other programs, until June 30, 2017. Keep in mind that while some programs are guaranteed, others are limited and you may have missed out on available funds.

You may have missed the deadline to apply for state-based aid through the FAFSA, but filing it now may still qualify you for aid from your school as well. Check with your financial aid office on available programs and funds.

While you’re at it, file the 2017–2018 FAFSA. The new FAFSA for the 2017–2018 year became available Oct. 1. File now to meet your college’s deadline for priority consideration for available financial aid. These deadlines vary by college but some are as early as Dec. 1, so file now to increase your chances of receiving aid for next year.

Consider a financial aid appeal. If your financial circumstances changed significantly since you filed the 2016–2017 FAFSA or since the tax year used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for this year, you may be eligible for a review of your financial aid award. Contact your financial aid office for more information.

Apply for scholarships and grants. Search for scholarships and grants awarded by private entities that have upcoming deadlines. You may also ask staff in your department office about scholarships specifically for students in your major.

Get a job, or another one. If your expenses are outpacing your income, a part-time job can help make ends meet. Even if you didn’t qualify for work-study based on your FAFSA, now is a good time to look for jobs on campus not already filled by work-study candidates. If you will need to complete an internship or co-op to meet graduation requirements, search for paid positions that will boost your current finances as well as provide related career experience.

Even if you’re already working, consider an additional job that suits your schedule. Soon many retailers and seasonal employers will be looking for temporary employees to handle the holiday rush.

Break up your required payments. Your college may offer a payment plan that allows you to make smaller monthly payments instead of one large payment at the beginning of the semester. You may be charged a fee to take advantage of a payment plan, so ask your financial aid or business office about the details.

Consider school-based or private loans. If you’ve exhausted all other options but still cannot pay your full cost of attendance, consider private student loans offered through your college or outside lenders. The Partnership Advance Education Loan from Iowa Student Loan is one option.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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6 Things to Know Before You Apply to College

Once you have decided on your top college choices, it’s time to start the application process. Here’s what to know:

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1. Know the types of applications and the deadlines for each
Many colleges and universities allow you to apply early, either with or without a commitment on your end. Know if the school offers early action, early decision, rolling admission or other types of applications and what you need to complete when.

2. Allow enough time
Will you need to complete a personal essay as part of the application process? Does the college require an admissions interview? Plan to complete each step in plenty of time to meet deadlines.

3. Understand yourself
Be prepared to explain your previous activities and academic achievements, as well as your goals and your motivations. Articulate what makes you different than everyone else, and make sure you focus on that uniqueness in essays or interviews. Also think about why each of the colleges on your list is a good fit for you.

4. Consider your online activity.
Some colleges may look up your social media profiles and pages. Make sure they don’t have a reason to discount your application because of what you’ve posted online. If your personal email address isn’t professional, create a new one that is.

5. Complete essays ahead of time
If you need to submit an essay online, have it written and saved beforehand, so you can copy and paste it into the application. This way, you won’t need to begin again if you experience technical problems, and you have a backup copy if needed.

6. Stay in touch
You should receive some confirmation that the college has received your application. If you don’t, reach out to the admissions office. Admissions representatives are also available if you have questions or need help completing the application process. Just make sure you contact the school; don’t ask your parents to do it on your behalf.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Know the Difference: Types of Financial Aid

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The variety of college funding sources often leads to confusion as students and parents plan for college. This financial aid primer can help you sort out and compare financial aid options.

Type of Aid Where It Comes From Awarded to Students with: Repayment Things to Think About
Grant Government and agencies

Colleges

Other sources

Financial need No Number of years available
Scholarships Colleges

Community, nonprofit and business organizations

Financial need

Academic merit

Specific accomplishments

Other qualifications

No Number of years available

Requirements for renewal

Work-Study Federal government Financial need No Expected overall earnings

Hourly wage

Available positions

Savings and Earnings Family and student contribution N/A No Availability of savings

Hourly wage

Available positions

Student Loans Federal government

Private lenders

Colleges

Financial need

Minimum underwriting criteria

Yes Ability to repay total amount of debt

Interest rates and terms

Grants
Grants are usually awarded to students with financial need or those with other special circumstances. Grants typically come from federal and state governments and agencies or from colleges; some are guaranteed to students who meet minimum qualifications. Some grants are awarded by private entities and other organizations.

Grants do not need to be repaid. Some are awarded only for freshman year; others are renewable for four or more years if the student continues to meet the qualifications.

Scholarships
Scholarships are similar to grants in many ways. A student may receive a scholarship for demonstrating financial need, but scholarships are also awarded for academic merit, specific accomplishments and a variety of other qualifications. Colleges are the source of many of the most substantial scholarships, but community organizations, nonprofits and businesses also make awards.

Scholarships also do not need to be repaid. Some are one-time awards; others are renewable if the student continues to meet qualifications. Students who qualify for renewable academic scholarships from colleges should especially be aware of the requirements to continue receiving the award and if they can requalify later if they temporarily fall below minimum guidelines.

Work-Study
Work-study is a federal aid program awarded by colleges to students with financial need. Estimated wages for jobs on or near campus are included in the college’s financial aid award packet, and colleges often provide assistance in locating these positions.

The award is a projected amount based on the student working a set number of hours, and the student is expected to use earnings to offset college expenses. Students who receive work-study should consider their ability to work the established hours, the pay compared to non-work-study positions and the work-study jobs available to them. Most colleges that offer work-study have job boards listing available positions.

Savings and Earnings
Although not technically awarded as part of a financial aid package, students are often expected to provide some funds to pay for the cost of college, either from existing savings or from continued earnings during college. This is reflected in the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number that is generated when a student files for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid or specific financial aid applications required by the college.

Families may not be able to contribute the expected amount, either because the funds are designated for the parents’ retirement or siblings’ education or otherwise unavailable.

Students who don’t receive enough other aid to cover the cost of attendance may plan to work to earn at least part of the shortfall. Again, students should be aware of the jobs available to them during school terms and breaks and an expected wage. Sometimes, on-campus jobs are limited to those who receive work-study awards and other students may need to look further afield.

Student Loans
Federal student loans are included in a student’s financial aid award package if the student and parents filed the FAFSA. These loans do need to be repaid but do not require payment until the student has left school. Students are guaranteed a certain amount of federal student loans, and parents may supplement that amount by taking out federal parent loans for the student’s benefit. (Parent loans enter repayment immediately, but borrowers may be able to delay payments if they meet certain criteria.)

Private student loans can be obtained from private lenders if students, or their cosigners if required, meet minimum underwriting criteria. Some colleges also lend student funds through their own programs.

Students who take out student loans should consider their ability to repay the total amount they’ll need to borrow for their entire college career. A general rule of thumb is to not borrow more in total than the student can realistically expect to make in his or her first year after leaving college.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Addressing Financial Aid Myths

Have you heard that applying for financial aid isn’t worth it because your parents earn too much or because it takes too long to complete? Don’t be tempted by these common myths to skip completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You could be passing up free money. And that’s the last thing you want to do when it comes to paying for college.

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Financial Aid Myth — You won’t receive financial aid because of how much money your parents earn.

Income is not the only determining factor when it comes to whether or not you’re eligible for federal student aid. And there is no income level that automatically disqualifies you for aid. Taking the time to complete the FAFSA is the only way to qualify for federal student aid and you won’t know if you qualify until you do that step, so completing the FAFSA every year you are in school is important.

Also, did you know that the FAFSA is used for more than just federal financial aid? State and school aid is also awarded based on your FAFSA results. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you could also be missing out on these other sources of financial aid.

Financial Aid Myth — The FAFSA is difficult to complete.

The FAFSA has changed a lot since it was first introduced, and the application is revised often to make the process smoother. The online process uses logic to limit questions to ones that are relevant and completing it online instead of filling out a paper application lessens the chance for mistakes. According to the federal government, completing the FAFSA now takes less than 21 minutes on average. That’s not too bad if the outcome is grants, scholarships and other funds to help lower your college expenses, is it?

Financial Aid Myth — You need to have your taxes filed before starting the FAFSA.

While you will eventually need final annual tax information for your FAFSA, you can start and even submit it with estimated information. It’s really important not to wait until your or your family’s taxes are filed to submit your FAFSA, especially if your college or university’s priority deadline is well before April 15. Financial aid is distributed first to those students who file their FAFSA by the school’s deadline, so if you miss that by waiting until you file your taxes, you may miss out on important opportunities.

If your taxes won’t be filed until closer to the tax deadline, you can estimate your information using last year’s tax return. Then once your taxes for this year are completed, you can update that information online. Remember, there is no penalty for using estimated information.

Financial Aid Myth — You only need to complete the FAFSA once.

If you complete the FAFSA before starting college, you may think you don’t need to file it ever again. But you should file the FAFSA every year as soon after Oct. 1 as possible if you intend to enroll in classes during the next academic year. This is especially important if your family’s circumstances change because you may be eligible for new or more aid next year. Even if there are no major changes to your family, though, other factors such as how financial need is calculated may mean you are eligible for different options next year. And, once you complete the FAFSA the first time, it will take even less time to complete the following years.

Financial Aid Myth — Your parents are not supporting you financially in college so you don’t have to include their information on the FAFSA.

Unfortunately you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, even if you are paying for all your college expenses yourself. You will need to answer questions in the FAFSA to determine if you are considered a dependent student or an independent student. If you are considered a dependent student, you will need to report your parents’ information on the FAFSA. If you are unsure how what type of student you are, contact your college or university’s financial aid office for assistance.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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What Parents Need to Know About College Applications

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The refrain is common among parents of high school seniors: “I didn’t need to do any of this when I applied to college!” Although much of the college application process is similar to the way it was 25 or more years ago, the information age has changed how much students and families know in general. And this often leads to confusion about the process and how much parents should take on.

As you prepare to help your child through the college application process, keep these tips in mind:

Know your financial parameters. With information readily available online and in print, it should be fairly easy to determine which colleges your family can readily afford and which your student can attend only if all the financial aid pieces fall into place. Search for a college name and “net price calculator” to calculate an estimated cost of attendance for your child. Then, search for the Common Data Set for that college to determine how likely your student is to be admitted and to receive additional need- and merit-based aid.

If your child will not be able to afford a college with finances on hand, consider whether it makes sense to allow him or her to apply. Remember, your student will be able to only take out so much in federal student loans. If your student needs to borrow more than that amount, he or she will likely depend on you to become a cosigner or to take on additional debt.

Help develop a list. Deciding which colleges to apply to can be overwhelming for a student. Your student will need to weigh location, distance, size, academic offerings, cost, selectivity and other factors. You can help with research and campus visits.

In addition, encourage your student to place the schools he or she is considering into categories: those that your student should be automatically admitted to based on his or her qualifications and that your family can afford; those that your student should be able to get into and is within your budget, with or without financial or merit aid; and those that your student has a lesser chance of being admitted to but would like to attend if given the opportunity. This list will help you and your student focus your efforts.

Set the timetable. Your student may be balancing school, extracurricular activities, a job and other commitments. You can help by setting a calendar of deadlines that fits within your child’s schedule. Will it make sense for your student to get a jump on college essays and applications early on or wait until later in the fall? Which applications need to be completed first?

Remember to include plenty of time for your student to complete essays, short answer responses and other requirements. It can be difficult for students to learn how to talk about their accomplishments without sounding forced or too humble.

Also allow your student time to regroup and recheck before hitting the submit button on an application. After completing an application, allow it to sit for a day or two and then help your child look at it with fresh eyes for errors or omissions. Consider whether optional fields should be filled in or explanations expanded.

Choose your seat on the bus. Your student should be in the driver’s seat of the college application bus, but you can choose to sit in the second row or at the back of the bus, depending on how much initiative your child has and how much support you need to provide. Your role is to be an adviser and sounding board, so make yourself available without pushing.

Although your student should be the one to initiate contact with admissions offices, recommenders and the school counseling office, be prepared to offer advice or action as needed.

Be prepared for fees. The fees associated with the application process can add up quickly. You may find that your family will need to pay fees to send test scores, obtain official transcripts, submit college applications and more. Watch for fee waivers from colleges on your student’s list (often received by email after the student expresses interest in the college at a visit, through email or online forms) and take advantage of free score sends on the ACT and SAT. You may also qualify for fee waivers based on your financial circumstances. Some schools offer no-fee applications but you may still need to pay to send scores or transcripts.

Remain calm and carry on with daily life. Applying to colleges is stressful for students and parents. Come up with a way to deal with the pressure that works for your family. Some parents schedule a weekly update to check on progress and limit nagging. Others create shared online or paper documents to keep track without college talk dominating every conversation. You may wish to set aside college-discussion-free days or weekends to give everyone a break. Another strategy is to complete the application now for one college your student likes and where admission is likely. One early acceptance in hand can ease pressure and allow your family to take on other applications with a refreshed attitude.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Choosing and Applying for a College

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If it’s your senior year in high school, everyone is likely asking you a lot of questions:

What you’re going to do after high school?
Where are you going to college?
What will you study?
What career do you want?

It can be overwhelming, but if you don’t know the answers, that’s OK. There is still plenty of time and right now all you really need to focus on is where you might like to go.

Narrowing Down the Choice
October is college application month, which means you should be narrowing down your choices of colleges and getting in your applications. Narrowing down a college does not mean choosing a college. You shouldn’t choose a college this early in the year. You should still be exploring your options. The best way to explore your options is to apply for admission to the colleges you like best and see what happens.

And while you have several months ahead of you to be making your final choices, it’s important to apply now because the admission process opens the doors for you to start receiving a lot of information to help inform your choice.

Importance of Applying
Until you apply for admission, you are missing out on several key elements:

  • You won’t know what merit-based or academic scholarships you could receive from the college.
  • A college won’t consider you for other forms of financial aid such as grants or work-study or any need-based scholarships.
  • You aren’t yet eligible to begin any of the other steps that will help you make the best choice in colleges.

This is why it is recommend that you apply to at least three to five colleges or universities and that you get your admission applications in by Nov. 1.

You can still apply after Nov. 1, but by applying by then, you can start using more of your time to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which kicks off the financial aid process. Getting your application in also means you can start filling our housing and scholarship applications, both of which require you to apply for admission first.

So take this fall and really think about the colleges you’ve visited and explored online. Which ones stand out? Which ones offer programs of study that interest you? If you’re still at a loss, consider setting up a profile on College Raptor (www.collegeraptor.com) and exploring your options through a free online portal. College Raptor is a free resource that helps you align your college interests with your academic, social and financial needs.

You can also visit any ICAN Student Success Center or call ICAN at (877) 272-4692 to setup a time to talk about your options. ICAN’s team of advisors would love to sit down and talk about your decision-making process and how your interests and list of colleges fit together.

So get to work on those admission applications and by November, you’ll be ready to talk financial aid.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

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7 Types of Deadlines to Become Friends With

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The deadlines associated with the college application process often sneak up on high school seniors and their parents. Take a little time to set up a spreadsheet or put deadlines (with appropriate reminders in the preceding weeks) in your planner to avoid spending your winter break either frantically trying to get everything done or regretting missed opportunities.

Here are several types of deadlines you should be aware of. Find out more about them at the colleges you plan to apply to and become friendly with them.

1. Standardized Testing and Reporting Dates
Most colleges and universities require SAT or ACT scores for admission and to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships. Ensure you allow enough time for the scores to be reported to colleges by their deadlines.

If you list specific colleges to receive scores when you register for the test, expect scores to be reported in about two weeks for the ACT or in three to four weeks for the SAT. Score reports may, however, be delayed for various reasons and you cannot expedite the scoring.

2. Application Deadlines
Once you know where you will apply to college, understand the different types of application deadlines at each school and which ones fit your situation.

Early admissions: You may have the option to apply early for a quicker admissions decision. With certain schools, this type of application may give you an edge for admissions or scholarships over later applicants. But, be sure you understand what you are applying for. With early decision (ED) applications, you agree that you will accept an admissions offer. You may apply ED to only one school. You may complete more than one early action (EA) application and either accept an admission right away or delay until the spring. However, some elite colleges offer single choice early action (SCEA) applications. With SCEA, you are not allowed to apply to other colleges until you receive an acceptance or rejection from the SCEA school.

Regular admissions: With regular admissions, schools offer a single application deadline, usually between November and January, for all applicants. Each college sends out all its acceptance or rejection notifications at the same time.

Rolling admissions: Schools that offer rolling admissions will accept applications any time after the application opens, generally between September and November, and before the application closes in late spring or summer. Admission is granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and applicants are notified of their status as their documents are processed. If you plan to apply via rolling admission, be sure you submit your application in time to meet scholarship or other deadlines.

3. Institutional Scholarships, Honors and Programs
If you plan to apply for merit-based or financial-need scholarships, investigate requirements and deadlines for applications. You may need to submit your application for admission, letters of recommendation and other documents by a certain date (many times before you are aware of your admission status) to be considered. In addition, interviews, campus visits or other requirements may take some planning before the deadline.

Many institutions offer special honors or other programs for qualified candidates. If you hope to join an honors program beginning your freshman year, be aware of deadlines and requirements for any special applications or supplemental materials.

If you are planning to declare a popular or selective major, investigate whether you must complete a separate application process for admission to the college or to the specific major by a certain date.

4. Financial Aid
The Free Application for Financial Aid, or FAFSA, opened Oct. 1 this year. Colleges and universities set their own priority filing deadlines by which you must complete and submit the FAFSA to receive best consideration for the available funds for need-based grants, scholarships, work-study and federal and institutional student loans. You may list all the colleges you are considering on the FAFSA, so apply as early as possible to improve your chances of receiving aid.

Certain colleges and universities also require that you fill out and submit the CSS/Financial Aid Profile to receive nonfederal need-based aid from the institution. Again, check for deadlines set by the schools you’re applying to, but plan to submit the Profile as early as possible.

5. Outside Scholarships
Scholarships awarded by community organizations, businesses and other entities become available throughout the academic year and have varying deadlines. As you search for scholarships, make note of submission deadlines and manage them accordingly.

6. Acceptance
After you submit each college application, check for notifications frequently. Schools may notify you by mail, email or online portal regarding your admission status, missing documents or scores and other important requirements.

When you have been accepted, the school may also tell you whether and when you must respond to secure your spot on campus. Keep these deadlines in mind while you weigh your options and make your final decision.

7. Deposits and Other Commitments
Also watch for information on required deposits for housing or tuition. In some cases, a school may require a small deposit to reserve a spot to select housing before you have been officially accepted, so these deadlines can appear unexpectedly.

As you finalize your college choices, you will also see deadlines for orientation or other sessions for incoming freshmen. Your school or major may also require some online training or reading before you move to campus, so continue to check for deadlines throughout your senior year and the following summer.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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