Financial Aid 101: A Timeline to Help You Through the Process

College Loan, Scholarship & Grant Application Tips for College FreshmanAlthough many colleges and universities have heavy price tags these days, don’t let that discourage you from applying. There are many financial aid options out there for college freshmen—from grants and scholarships to parent and student loans—that can help lower tuition costs and make college more affordable.

How much financial aid you need will depend on a variety of factors. If you are planning on living at home and attending a state university or a community college, you will probably not need as much assistance as you would living away from home at a private institution. So, in order to sort out your options, here’s your first college lesson: Tips on Financing Your College Education.


It’s never too late to save! Even if you only save enough for books, your after-school-job money will give you a head start. Also, you should attend financial aid information nights at your high school and top college choices.


As a college admissions counselor, I know that senior year can be a hectic and emotional year for students, so my advice is to follow this easy timeline:

November: Apply for your pin number for your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Most schools require this form to determine how much financial aid you will need. The FAFSA financial aid form can be accessed at

January: Start filling out your FAFSA aid form. After January 1, you and your parents/guardians can submit your information. Check with your colleges to see if they require any additional forms.

March: Review your SAR (Student Aid Report), a report of all the data submitted through your FAFSA, for accuracy. Be sure to update any current tax information.

April: Watch the mail for your acceptance and financial aid award letters. Compare your award letters, and then choose the best option for you and your family. Remember that college scholarships and grants are free money, while college loans have to be paid back.

May: Sign and return your financial aid award letter. Don’t forget to decline the award letters from the colleges and universities that you will not be attending. If your award does not cover all your costs, you may need to apply for an educational loan through your local bank. Call your college’s financial aid office for more details.

If you follow this timeline, your senior year and the financial aid process will be a whole lot smoother!


This article was written by Carlin Carr

Carlin Carr received her bachelor's degree from Mount Holyoke College and her master’s degree from the National University of Ireland. She also studied at the University of Mumbai, India, on a Rotary Ambassadorial Fellowship.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.