Timeline for financing a college education

Financing a college education is likely one of the biggest expenses your family will face. If college is in the near future, a little planning can make all of the difference between the experience being a financial hardship or a strategic investment.

If you haven't started already, the beginning of the senior year of high school is a critical place to get moving.


Look for scholarship opportunities. Some employers offer scholarship money to children of employees. Sometimes local organizations have scholarship programs for high school seniors. Meet with your high school counselor to get information on scholarships. Check the local library and search the Internet to see if you can find other scholarship opportunities and tell everyone you know to send scholarship information your way.
  • Request applications and financial-aid information from colleges you're interested in.
  • Register to take the SAT or ACT and enroll in an SAT or ACT preparation course since test scores are often among the criteria used to determine scholarship winners.
  • Although it's too early to complete an FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) use an EFC calculator to get an early read on your eligibility for financial assistance.


  • Attend college fairs and financial aid workshops. These might be sources of additional information about scholarships, grants and other types of financial aid.
  • "Early action" or "early decision" applicants applying for financial aid usually are required by this time to complete aid applications using estimated income figures.
  • Visit college campuses. Compare costs of colleges so you get an idea of how much money will be needed.
  • Buy a college-planning calendar and each time you find out a scholarship or financial aid deadline, schedule it.
  • Continue to contact prospective colleges and find out their deadlines for scholarship and financial aid applications, as well as any paperwork you'll need to submit. Also, request application forms from them and schedule deadlines on your calendar.


  • Request a PIN, or personal identification number, from the Department of Education. Your PIN will significantly reduce processing time on your FAFSA.
  • Work on applications for admissions, scholarships and grants.
  • Visit college campuses. Compare costs of colleges so you get an idea of how much money will be needed.
  • Request transcripts and letters of recommendation, which are often needed to complete applications.
  • Continue looking for additional sources of money.


  • Start getting family financial information in order if you plan to apply for financial aid. Among the items you'll want to gather are bank statements and records of benefits from government agencies such as the Social Security Administration.
  • Make sure you get an FAFSA application from your high school counselor's office before school closes for winter vacation. The FAFSA of course, can also be filed online. If you're planning to file online, visit the site and begin to familiarize yourself with the site and the application.




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