Our Financial Aid Checklist -- Part II

Today, we're pleased to bring you Part II of a checklist of tasks you should be tackling right now to pay for college, courtesy of College Advisor Alice Kleeman. Admission deans, financial aid officers and college counselors agree that the single biggest mistake families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid. So even if you think you won't qualify, apply. Use this checklist to make sure you are eligible for ALL the aid you may qualify for.


*          Most importantly, do apply for financial aid to be sure you are considered for all assistance available. You may be pleasantly surprised. And, sometimes, even though you don't qualify for federal aid, you need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to be considered for merit scholarships, state aid and federal student loans.

*             Check with your high school counselor about financial aid workshops scheduled at your school or in the community and attend with your parents! 

*          December is a good time for families to gather all the tax-related information that is available before the year's end; this will facilitate early filing of both taxes and the FAFSA in the new year. The FAFSA can be filed based on estimates if tax returns are not completed, but beginning to assemble all the important information necessary for prompt tax filing can hasten the process for a year in which a family is applying for financial aid. Just remember, do not SUBMIT your FAFSA before January 1—it will not be processed for the correct school year!

*          The list of documents needed for filing -- tax returns for the most recent year, Social Security numbers, driver's license information, student and parent W-2 forms and other records of money earned, current bank statements, etc. -- can be found on the FAFSA website here. Families can also find worksheets on the FAFSA website to fill out prior to filing.

*          If you have not obtained your FAFSA PIN (Personal Identification Number), do so now. You can obtain a FAFSA PIN (Personal Identification Number) for yourself and one of your parents here.  Later, when you file the FAFSA electronically, you will use the PIN to create an electronic signature. While you may obtain a PIN now, remember you will not file the FAFSA until after January 1.

*          Check with your high school college counselor to make sure you understand any special requirements for applying for aid at public universities in your state and have completed all forms necessary to qualify for state financial aid.

*          If you have begun to correspond with the financial aid offices of the colleges on your list, make sure that all communication includes your name, address, email address, the last four digits of your social security number, and your date of birth on every page.

*          Continue researching scholarships and use the winter break to tackle scholarship applications. Again, here are some resources for researching scholarships: 



College Board Scholarship Search


FinAid’s Major-Specific Resource



Peterson's Database




School Soup

The Web-based Naviance system features a scholarship search service powered by Sallie Mae. Check with your counselor to see if your school offers this feature of Naviance.

*          Draft a scholarship essay. Many scholarship applications ask for a personal statement that is essentially a brief autobiography. Collect all your already-prepared college essays and begin to think about creating a personal statement and drafting your scholarship essays. This brief autobiography can include information about your family's financial situation. But pay attention to what each application requests for the personal statement and be sure to answer the specific prompt.  

*               Deadlines matter! Track them carefully. You can use the Financial Aid Deadline Organizer available here. Or your high school may have an online system, such as Naviance, for tracking progress and deadlines. Check with your high school guidance or college counselor.

*             Submit your CSS Profile to colleges that require it by each college's deadline.

*             If you have questions, ask your high school college counselor or speak with the college financial aid office about any concerns about the FAFSA, CSS PROFILE, deadlines or scholarships and financial aid in general!

We'll be back in January with more reminders!

Alice Kleeman has served as the College Advisor for 19 years in the College and Career Center of Menlo-Atherton High School, a public high school of 2,000 students in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also teaches each summer on the faculty of the College Board’s Summer Admission Institute for new admission officers.




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