Advice from a Father Who Has Been There
Blue Skies Ahead by Destressing Financial Aid
Applying for financial aid can be time consuming and stressful, especially for first timers, so don’t worry if you feel a bit intimidated. I certainly did, and everyone I know does. If your child is applying to one of the 400 colleges that require the CSS Profile or if you’ve left it to the last minute, you probably know what I’m talking about. Here are a few tips to help de-stress the process.
Do this first: Make a schedule. Write down the due dates for each submission (FAFSA, CSS Profile, school financial aid applications, school-specific “supplemental” forms) and put the list in date order, with the soonest dates first. This can concentrate things wonderfully. You’ll see that you don’t have to do everything at once and there are some things you may not have to do at all.
Do this next: Set up any accounts that you’ll need, FAFSA for sure, and possibly the CSS Profile for both student and parents as well as Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC). (The student CSS Profile account needs to be set up before the parent one.) These accounts are used to share financial data with the college financial aid offices. Setting up these accounts can take a day or two, so get this out of the way now.
Go through your schedule a second time and for each submission, make a list of the forms and documents you’ll need. This will generally be forms that describe your income, assets and debts: tax forms, bank statements, mortgage statements, brokerage account statements, etc.
Start with your first submission and gather the required documents. Make 2 copies of each document unless you already know you’ll need more. Once you’ve gathered and copied the documents, you’ve done the hard work. It’s all downhill from here. Now enter the information for your first submission.
Work on your submissions in due date order, and spend an hour or two each day. Don’t try to do everything at once, because you get better at this as you go along. If you’re going to miss a deadline, call up the financial aid office and ask for an extension. They’ll appreciate the notice, and more often than not, you’ll get a couple of extra weeks.
Keep working in small increments so you don’t burn out. If you can’t find a piece of information, or can’t figure something out, take your best guess. Something is better than nothing. You can amend your submissions afterwards.
Keep in mind, you've done harder things, like raising a teenager. So ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. And good luck!
Dan Ellentuck, known as College Fin Aid Dad, blogs on college financing and other personal finance topics. The experience of applying for financial aid for his two sons inspired this piece.