I’m currently taking a class on college planning, so this topic is top of mind. Additionally, the fall is the time high school seniors apply for colleges and financial aid. As such, it seems a good time to remind people of the various types of deadlines to stay on top of this time of year.

October 1st: This is the date the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available. This is the application used by the vast majority of colleges and universities to determine how much aid to award. A common misconception is that high-income families don’t need to bother applying as they won’t qualify for need-based aid. While they might not qualify for need-base aid, this application is used for other purposes, including merit-based scholarships at many schools and non-need based unsubsidized federal student loans. So, if your family can’t afford to pay 100% of the cost wherever your child might go, then it’s worthwhile completing the FAFSA. Furthermore, some of the aid is first-come, first-served, so it’s worth completing it as soon as possible after October 1st.

November/December: There are two important deadlines in the last two months of the year.

  • Early Decision: If you child already knows what their top school is and your family can easily afford the price tag, then Early Decision can be a great way to gain an advantage. Your child will be in a smaller admissions pool and have their application viewed first. However, they are required to attend the school if admitted, regardless of the price and financial aid package. For many families, making this type of commitment without knowing the final price is not a wise decision.
  • Early Action: While the deadlines are similar, the process is more flexible than Early Decision. The child doesn’t have to commit to attending the Early Action schools and can apply to multiple schools. The benefit is earlier notification of admission and financial aid for better planning.

January/February: Regular admission applications are due in January/February.  There is no limit to the number of schools applied to and this allows more time to retake tests if necessary and determine which schools are the best fit academically and financially.

Applying for college and financial aid can be a daunting and emotional process. Because it’s one of the biggest purchase decisions many families will make, it’s worth being thoughtful and intentional throughout the process. With a bit of effort and planning, you’ll provide your child with a valuable and affordable college education.