Think spring and financial aid. Now is time to start for fall!

Even though most colleges and universities are just beginning their Spring 2012 terms, it is time to begin the financial aid process for fall now. Many types of financial aid are given on a first-come, first-served basis so delays could be very costly. This is the time of year to take necessary steps to make sure your financial aid packages are ready so come fall, you are ready to start classes with you finances in place. 

Financial aid forms and applications are much like homework; it must be done correctly and turned it in on time! Different types of financial aid have different deadlines and, given the current budget issues with many state and federal programs, it is becoming more important each year to file for financial aid as soon as possible.

Because the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the foundation of many need-based programs, it is especially important to fill out and submit your FAFSA sooner than later. Note the first “F” in FAFSA stands for FREE.   While there are some organizations that are happy to charge you for assistance in filing the FAFSA, it is unnecessary. If you or your family is having difficulty filing, contact the admission or financial aid office at the school you have begun the admission process with and most will be more than happy to assist you in the process.

To make filing the FAFSA as easy as possible, it is typically considered best to complete any necessary 2011 Federal tax returns before filing.  This means begin collecting all necessary tax documentation now so that filing both tax returns and the FAFSA can be done as soon as possible. To complete the 2012-2013 FAFSA, go to www.fafsa.ed.gov.

Most institutions have a priority deadline for FAFSA filing. What does this mean?  You will want to make sure that any institution you are considering attending in the Fall 2012 term receives the results of your completed FAFSA by that deadline to ensure you are is in consideration for any and all grants or scholarships that you may be eligible to receive. Rockford College’s 2012-13 priority deadline for all students (new and continuing) is March 1, 2012.

This is also a great time to look into what is available for local scholarships.  Organizations, businesses, and foundations are a great place to inquire as well as religious and civic entities.  And be sure to ask the college. For example, Rockford College has 75 different scholarships available to its students that are funded by individuals, organizations and corporations to provide tuition assistance.  

Keep in mind, small scholarships can add up and there is typically less competition for smaller local scholarships than some larger regional or national ones, which can increase the chance of receiving one or multiple scholarships. Every bit helps to make college more affordable so be aware of those deadlines and start working on your financial aid process now!