Timeline for financing a college education

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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 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 — test scores are often among the criteria used to determine scholarship winners.
  • Although it’s too early to complete a FAFSA, or 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.
  • Complete applications for early-decision programs first.
  • 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 a 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.


  • Complete family taxes as early as possible because you’ll need to submit the tax return for the previous year with your FAFSA. The Department of Education uses the FAFSA to determine a student’s eligibility for federal and state funds.
  • As soon as tax returns have been filed, submit the
    FAFSA online.


  • Continue filling out financial-aid forms for prospective schools, as well as scholarship applications according to your deadline calendar. Though you have already filled out your FAFSA, some colleges have additional paperwork you must submit to request financial aid.
  • As you submit these forms to various colleges, follow up to make sure all paperwork has been received.
  • Keep looking for more scholarships. Churches, civic organizations and philanthropists could be possible sources of funding.
  • Check in with a high school guidance counselor to see if more scholarship opportunities have come in.


  • Follow up on any scholarship applications submitted in the fall if you have not yet received an award notification.
  • By now you should have received your Student Aid Report, or SAR, which summarizes the data you reported on your FAFSA. Check it to make sure it is accurate.
  • If there are mistakes or if you have not received your SAR, contact the
    Federal Student Aid Information Center.


  • Continue to follow up on scholarship and financial aid applications you’ve submitted. Look out for responses to applications in the mail.
  • Look for acceptance deadlines on any scholarship or financial-aid awards. The student might have to formally accept the scholarship or financial aid by a certain date.
  • Compare the amount of financial aid awarded to the cost of tuition.


  • Fill out student loan applications if loans are part of the student’s financial aid package.
  • Continue following up on scholarship applications if you have not yet received notification.
  • If you do receive additional scholarships, let the student’s chosen college’s financial aid office know about them. They might adjust the financial aid package that they offer accordingly.


  • Keep looking for scholarship opportunities being awarded by local businesses and groups.
  • Get a summer job to generate more money for college.


  • Continue looking for last-minute scholarship money, or look for scholarships that can be applied for in the fall to help pay for the student’s second year of college.


  • Look for back-to-school sales to help pay for school supplies.
  • Start packing.