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Financial aid timeline for college-bound seniors

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September: Talk to your guidance counselor about financial aid, including family financial issues that will affect your ability to pay. The more counselors know, the more they can help.

October: Create a spreadsheet to note deadlines for each college. Collect all financial aid documents and information in a folder to keep until graduation.

November: Check the application process and deadlines for Bright Futures financial aid. Visit floridastudentfinancialaid.org or call 888-827-2004.

January: File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. This will determine your eligibility for federal financial aid, such as Stafford Loans and Pell Grants. About four to six weeks after filing, you’ll receive the Student Aid Report, known as SAR, which summarizes your FAFSA information and provides a dollar amount for your expected family contribution, known as EFC. All the schools you list will receive your financial information. You can file online at fafsa.ed.gov.

Do not wait. Much financial aid is handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. Procrastinating can cost you thousands of dollars.

Tell the financial aid offices of the colleges to which you apply about any special financial issues that may affect your family’s ability to pay for college. Information, such as a parent losing a job or chronic illness, may not be included in the standard financial aid forms.

February: If your school requires it, file the CSS/Financial Aid profile at least four weeks before the financial aid deadline at your school. The profile will determine your eligibility for nonfederal financial aid, such as institutional aid and scholarships. File online at bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college  .

Ask your counselor if you’re eligible for waiving some application and testing fees if you meet income standards.

March: Submit any additional forms or documentation required by the financial aid office.

March–April: You’ll receive financial aid award letters detailing how much you’ll receive and what your aid will consist of in terms of loans, grants and work study. Compare your awards by using the comparison tool at www.collegeboard.org. Contact the college financial aid office if you have questions or concerns about the award letter.

Decide which college to attend, based on how it will meet your academic and financial needs. Notify schools that you’ll not attend so they can redistribute your aid.

Be aware you don’t have to accept all the financial aid offered to you. Remember that all loans must be repaid. You can accept, reduce or decline the aid. Tell the college if you have outside scholarships they aren’t aware of.

May–September: If needed, apply for supplemental financial aid. Your parents may borrow up to your cost of education minus your financial aid through the federal PLUS Loan. Private student loan programs offer the same thing. Visit studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/loans/plus.

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