College Aid Applications Start Next Month

December 5, 2008
Special Feature

If you’re the parent of a high school senior, you and your college-bound child have probably spent a lot of time lately sifting through college catalogs, stressing over SATs, and perhaps actually visiting come colleges.

If you’re the parent of a high school senior, you and your college-bound child have probably spent a lot of time lately sifting through college catalogs, stressing over SATs, and perhaps actually visiting come colleges. But you won’t be able to deal with one of the key elements in the college application process—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA—until January 1. FAFSA is used to apply for all federal aid, including Pell Grants and student loans. Many colleges also base their financial aid decisions on FAFSA information.

Filling out the FAFSA form can be intimidating. It’s a six-page form that calls for detailed family financial information. Many in Congress would like to see a simpler form in the hopes that it would encourage more low-income students to apply for aid, but a proposed two-page form is still at least a year away. According to the American Council of Education, more than a million students eligible for Pell Grants don’t fill out the FAFSA form. Another problem with the FAFSA form, critics say, is the timing. Many students will file college applications before January 1, but colleges are reluctant to make any financial aid decisions without the FAFSA information.

The deadline for filing a FAFSA form is June 30, but many state and private colleges have earlier dates, so parents are urged to file as early as possible. And if you’re approached with an offer for help with FAFSA in return for a fee, be wary. There’s not much help you can get in return for your money that you can’t get for free at Web sites like www.finaid.org, www.studentaid.ed.gov, and www.students.gov.