J.K. of Lake Success, NY writes:

We're working on our college financial aid applications and notice that there are all kinds of deadlines, in addition to all kinds of forms from so many sources. We've even come across something called "Priority Deadline." How do we find out what these deadlines are, as well as the best possible sources for aid, giving ourselves the best shot at money for college?

The College Whisperer responds:

And there you were, applications for admission submitted, thinking the pressure was off. Home free, right?

Well, not quite. Assuming you need money to help pay for tuition, room and board (and who doesn't these days?), the race is still on, the clock is ticking, and, yes, deadlines loom.

With respect to financial aid, we've been encouraging you to file early, and, when searching for scholarship dollars, often.

Step One: Complete and submit FAFSA online. [Don't wait to file your tax returns. You can submit "Corrections to FAFSA" after you file your returns.]
Step Two: Complete and submit applications for State aid, such as New York's Tuition Assistance Program
Step Three: For those schools requiring the College Board based fin aid app, complete and submit the CSS Profile (as well as related forms, as may be called for, such as IDOC and the "Noncustodial Profile").
Step Four: Complete and submit college-specific forms, as may be required by the schools you have applied to.
Step Five: Search and actually apply for scholarships and grants, both institutional and private. [Nothing beats paying for college with other people's money!]

Now, about those deadlines...

Yes, there are federal (FAFSA) deadlines, state deadlines, and even college deadlines, spread out from February through June of the following year. [Be sure to check with the admissions/financial aid offices of the colleges you've applied to for the specific filing deadlines.]

Then there's the so-called "Priority Deadline," which can best be described as the start of the race to get the most buck for your bang.

In essence, the priority deadline is the date to apply by to be considered for and have the best chance for all available aid. Some aid is very limited, so meeting the priority deadline gives you more of a chance if you are eligible. This is not just for institutional aid but also for some limited federal aid such as SEOG grants, Work Study, or Perkins loans (all have very limited funding). Missing the priority deadline means you get considered for what, if any, money may remain after those that meet the deadline have been awarded aid.

In other words, submit your completed applications before the priority deadline to assure consideration for the best financial aid package you may qualify for.

Miss the priority deadline filing date for your school? Apply anyway, and do it right away. While the early bird may well get the worm, there's usually enough in the pot for the second mouse to get at least some of the cheese. [Love those mixed mataphors, don't you? ;-)]

What about a date designated simply as deadline? Well, typically a deadline means just that -- last day to file before you're plumb out of luck. Should you file anyway, even past deadline? Absolutely! You may get nothing. You may get crumbs. Or, who knows, you may get lucky. And remember, there are no deadlines for certain forms of financial aid, such as Pell Grants and Stafford loans. [Though you will need to file in a timely manner in order to secure funds to cover upcoming college costs such as tuition, room and board.]

Keep in mind that institutional aid (money awarded directly by the colleges) is often limited, being awarded to qualified students on a first-apply, first-to receive basis. This includes, in most instances, merit aid, need-based aid, and federal Work Study programs.

Not sure what type of financial aid you may qualify for or exactly how to go about applying for it? Check with your college counselor, guidance counselor or college financial aid office. And be sure to puruse the blogposts right here at The College Whisperer for insights, tips and invaluable information on scholarships, grants and other resources for funding your college education.

Contrary to popular belief, there really is quite a bit of money out there to help students (and their parents) pay for college and related expenses. You just have to know where to look for gold and how to mine that mother load!

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Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer, the authors of referenced articles and websites, and such guest bloggers as may appear.
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