Financial aid: Apply early


To be considered for need- and non-need-based federal and state aid programs and gift aid, students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). An FAFSA application can be completed at Check the website for each academic year's deadlines. Recent years' dates have been as soon after Jan. 1 as possible for state aid and by June 30 of the year college starts for federal aid.

Types of available financial aid include need-based grants with some tied to academic performance, grants administered by colleges at their discretion and low-interest loans.

Here are some financial aid tips to keep in mind:

-          The later you send in your FAFSA application, the less money there is available.

-          Be sure to provide accurate information because errors can delay processing.

-          Schools may require other forms to apply for financial aid. Check with each school to determine which forms are required and note their respective deadlines. Many schools set the scholarship consideration deadline before their decision deadline, and students must meet it to be considered for scholarships.

-          Gift aid is almost always tax-free and never has to be repaid. Gift aid includes scholarships (need or merit-based), grants (need or merit-based) and tuition waivers.

-          If your dream school offers a financial aid package that falls short of what you want, negotiate. Financial aid packages awarded directly by colleges can be considered first offers, not final offers. Since they've already accepted you, they might be willing to work with you.

Learn more at


Sources: The College Bound Organizer (Sourcebooks, $19.99), FAFSA and Kaplan Test Prep

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