The cost of higher education is a well-known deterrent for many first-generation, low-income college seekers. Despite the Department of Education pushing back the annual “opening” of the FAFSA to October 1st, most students wait until closer to the application deadline (March 2nd for California) to submit. Below, we explain the benefits of students applying NOW (before early February).
Current Senior (Class of 2021) Timeline
Current seniors who have not yet submitted their financial aid application, should submit ASAP. Submitting now means that students, at a minimum, will know their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and estimated Pell Grant award. Students, with help from a counselor, should also be able to correctly estimate if they qualify for a Cal Grant even BEFORE submitting the FAFSA/CADAA.
If students apply before early February, it is much more likely that they will be notified of their full and official aid package in a timely manner, helping them make informed decisions regarding their ultimate college of attendance. Unfortunately, procrastinating and waiting until the March 2nd deadline means that students may have to wait to receive their official financial aid offer. It is very possible that the aid offer will arrive until May 1st, which is the Student Intent to Register deadline for most colleges. It is very stressful and discouraging for students to make college decisions blind to their financial aid situation.
Suggested Timeline for Future Seniors
The financial aid applications open October 1st; thus, students should begin submitting their applications in early October. There is really no reason that students should be wait if they have everything they will need to complete the financial aid application (i.e., tax returns, banking statements, and other family financial information). Many students are not aware of the benefits of submitting early (see above) and often find themselves scrambling to submit moments before the deadline. While this is common practice for college admission applications (!!!), there can be actual, significant consequences for procrastinators when it comes to financial aid NOTIFICATION. Of course, students will receive the aid they qualify for eventually, but the timing usually is a disadvantage to the student.
For future senior classes, encourage them to submit their financial aid application early. Those who submit in early October are often provided CONFIRMATIN of their Cal Grant award before November 30th, which can impact where a student chooses to apply to college. Students from low-income communities are more likely to apply to schools knowing they will receive the Cal Grant, which pays state fees, making college instantly more attainable.
Bridging Tip: Financial Aid makes college possible for many students whose families can’t afford to pay for college out of pocket. Thus, it’s essential to get the Financial Aid Application submitted early so that students know where they stand in terms of need-based, entitlement aid.