With all the important college dates, applications, and notices whizzing by, it’s easy to feel behind. If you’re really late to the game, it can feel down right hopeless. But is this feeling warranted? It is ever too late for financial aid?

The Wall Street Journal once published an article on this topic, and I think you will find it enlightening. The article summarizes an important point; it’s never too late for financial aid.

How can I still qualify for financial aid late in the admissions cycle?

Students might qualify for grant money later in the year by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students can also qualify for automatic institutional scholarships or grant money earmarked for juniors and seniors in the spring. Indeed, these are a few of the points I share with families on a regular basis, and I think it’s solid advice.

Why is timing so important, anyway?

But don’t be fooled; it’s harder to get money the longer you wait. This is true even if your child has excellent grades, test scores, and extracurricular involvements. I’ve seen families miss out on fantastic funding packages because of a missed deadline. After all, many of the most lucrative scholarships have deadlines earlier in the school year (commonly November-February).

It’s incredibly easy to avoid this heartache. Now that you can file the FAFSA as early as October 1 of your senior year, you have a greater incentive to start early and research scholarship deadlines before they come due. If you have a junior in high school, start this process now; don’t wait until your senior year. You can:

1.   Establish your school list.

The first step in receiving adequate funding is to establish your school list. Your prospective schools should fall into three buckets: safety (schools you will get into), match (schools that best match your personality and financial/career goals), and reach (schools of increased prestige, selectivity, and ranking). Applying across this spectrum encourages a wider range of financial aid offers from schools. Which school offers the best package might surprise you.

2.   Research and calendarize deadlines.

Once you have your school list, get on each school’s website and research scholarship and admission deadlines. Note them on a master calendar. This will ensure you’re not missing a cutoff point because it was hidden in a brochure that didn’t make it past the wastebasket. If you’re really early in your preparation, you can browse scholarships of interest with an eye toward fulfilling the requirements while you are still in high school. For instance, if a big scholarship requires volunteerism, you can start accumulating hours now.

3.   Apply early.

Many funding sources are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. So it’s always important to start early and apply as soon as possible.

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