Every college has a priority financial aid date or deadline for students who want the best financial aid need and merit awards for which they qualify. Some have actual penalties for late filers. The benefits of filing early and on time are the biggest awards for which students qualify.
Families fail to file timely financial aid forms for a variety of reasons to include not knowing what, how or when to file an application and not having completed tax returns. Adding to the confusion is the fact that each college can have a different deadline and request that students and parents follow a slightly different process.
There are a few standard things that families can expect to find at every college that participates fully in federal educational aid programs:
- expect to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA sometime between January 1 and February 1 every year there is someone in the family planning on going to college in the fall
- expect to receive a student aid report or SAR with results from the FAFSA that will also be sent to colleges listed on the FAFSA
- expect that the college may request that families file a CSS Profile on the College Board website at about the same time the FAFSA is filed or before
- expect that each college may also have an institutional form to file
- expect to have to either upload tax returns with supporting schedules and W-2 forms for parents and students to College Board's IDOC system or to have to either fax or mail those documents to each college
- expect that a FAFSA could be selected for verification and that more documentation may be requested
- expect an award letter with at least the offer of a student and/or parent loan plus any grands or merit aid for which a student qualifies
Know that families can contact college financial aid offices for help and guidance about special circumstances or if they cannot get documents in on time.