Expert says college-bound students should plan now for financial aid

In the eyes of a traditional high school senior, the new year means it’s time to apply to their favorite schools… but what they may not know is it’s also time to apply for financial aid to keep them there.

FASFA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, determines how much financial aid schools can award based on a family’s financial situation.

The application period opened on Jan. 1 and runs through June 30, and Laurie Wolfe, who’s on the board of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, says preparing now can make the process less stressful.

“It’s a good time to sit down with the family and start talking about, ‘What do we need to be looking at?'” she said. “I highly encourage people to get hold of a copy of that application now, look through it, pull together the documents that you need.”

The list of documents includes income tax returns and investment statements.

The application deadline is June 30, but to avoid missing any deadlines for special scholarship programs, Wolfe recommends completion before Feb. 15.

Federal aid is based on need and offered through grants and loans.

Wolfe says families need to understand the difference, and look at ways to reduce costs before students begin college.

“Our fear is that students will not think about what happens down the road, when they graduate and they’re $20-, $25-, $30,000 in debt,” she said. “And they have to pay that back and, at the same time, they’re trying to buy a new car, get a new house, maybe relocate.”

While in high school, Wolfe says students should consider volunteer opportunities that can be helpful experience in getting a scholarship, or high school courses that can be counted for college credit.