If you’re currently wondering how you’ll pay for your next years and semesters at college, it can be tough to decide which order to prioritize your funding efforts. With so many programs and awards potentially available, how should you decide which ones to focus on first?
At this time of year – during the early months of January and February – it is important that students put their top priority toward completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Every year, the FAFSA is available after the first of January, and as soon as you complete your federal tax returns you can complete the financial aid application immediately online.
Since the federal financial aid program is by far the largest source of free money for college students, it is also the first one you should complete before finding and applying for private and institutional awards. Every student who is found to be eligible for the federal program actually receives some kind of financial assistance – so as long as you meet the requirements and complete the application in a thorough and detailed manner, there is some free money out there for you in the form of college grants and reduced-rate student loans.
Don’t think you’ll be eligible for federal aid because you or your parents earn too much money each year? That’s ok – its still important to complete the FAFSA even if you don’t expect to be eligible. These applications are often used by other scholarship programs and college aid departments, so having the paperwork completed makes a convenient reference for future program applications.
Once you’ve got your federal financial aid applications squared away, its a good idea to double-check on any state-based or institutional awards. Most states and colleges provide some sort of financial assistance for students, and these are often more reliable than private scholarships even though there are ultimately fewer programs that are backed by taxes and alumni contributions.
If you’re all caught up on your financial aid applications and up to date on all the state and institutional award requirements, head on over to check out the biggest scholarships with February 2010 deadlines. While private awards are highly competitive, the more you apply the better your odds of receiving free money for college!