Financial Aid Calendar for High School Seniors

Timeline for College-Bound Financial Aid & LoansYou’re poised to start the next phase of your education, and you know college is a big expense, but you’re starting to get confused. What’s a COA? And how does the EFC on your SAR impact your eligibility for funding through FSEOG (Confused? Don’t worry, we’re here to help—see the list of terms at the end of this article for helpful definitions).

The financial aid process is complicated, and the best way to learn is to start with an overview of the key steps. Use the timeline below for guidance.

From September-December, you should:

  • Narrow your college choices down to several finalists and collect cost information from each school.
  • Gather information about scholarships offered at the colleges on your short list and note any you might qualify for.
  • Research scholarship opportunities with community organizations in your hometown.
  • Go online to find more sources of funding; try or
  • Attend financial aid workshops wherever available.
  • Apply for college scholarships and grants and investigate student loans.
  • Request a Personal Identification Number (PIN) online at You’ll need your PIN to file the FAFSA (more on that below) electronically.

In January and February, you should:

  • File the FAFSA and other required forms; you can fill out the FAFSA online at
  • Receive and review your Student Aid Report (SAR).
  • Complete any essays required to apply for financial aid offered through your university.
  • Submit corrections to the FAFSA if needed once tax forms are complete.

In March and April, you should:

  • Contact the financial aid offices of the schools you applied to and ask if all materials have been received; send any outstanding materials in promptly.
  • Review financial aid packages; they’ll look something like this:
Award Letter  
Scholarship $750
College grant $3,000
State grant $640
Student loan $3,500
Employment $560
Total Package $8,450

In May and June, you should:

  • Accept and return the financial aid package from the school you’ve chosen.
  • File the Master Promissory Note if taking out Stafford Loans.
  • Contact the financial aid office to determine the details of any work-study arrangements, if necessary.

Terms You Need to Know

COA: Cost of Attendance, the total cost of one year’s education, including tuition, room, board, books, and fees.

EFC: Expected Family Contribution, a dollar amount determined by the information you provide on the FAFSA—this is the amount your family is expected to be able to pay out of pocket for college expenses.

SAR: Student Aid Report, the report you get after filing the FAFSA that includes your EFC.

FSEOG: Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a grant program for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.


This article was written by Kimberly Hardy

Kimberly Hardy, MSW, LGSW, has been a clinical school social worker for many years. She has studied at Morgan State University, The Ohio State University, and The University of Chicago.

1 Comment

  1. Sonya Nixon

    I have been a CNA1 for years, am currently jobless after working 16 years in the Psych Field. I am interested in Medical Office Tech, I would like to know if I quailify for assistance for some education. We are in the midst of paying for our home. My husband works part time at lows with only recieving about 15 hours a week for employment there. I am 52 years old, am interested in furthering my education but I know I will need aid, the kind of aid that I am not required to pay back.

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