After your student’s (or your) college applications are done–and even if they’re not–January brings a new set of deadlines with it. These tasks need to be done now, or as soon as possible.
1. Request a PIN for the FAFSA (the student and the parent each need one). The student will use the same PIN each year; the parent can use one PIN for more than one child’s FAFSA. The PIN acts as an electronic signature for on-line submission.
2. Start the FAFSA. Financial aid starts here; every college requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Information you will need on hand:
- Student Social Security Number
- Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of income.
- Bank statements and records of investments.
- Records of untaxed income.
- And that PIN to sign electronically.
Make sure you select the correct form (2014-2015) and submit as promptly as possible. (See more about deadlines below.)
3. Start your tax return. If this process is new to you, now is the time to internalize the financial aid calendar. The FAFSA, the CSS Profile (used by most private colleges), and other college-specific applications require information now (or very soon) from the tax return you have not yet completed. Specifically, financial aid applications for the 2014-2015 college year require 2013 income tax return details in January 2014.
In many instances you are allowed to make estimations for 2013 using the previous year’s returns (and you will be asked to make projections for 2014); however, there’s at least one college on Mod Squad Julie’s list that requires signed, completed 2013 income tax returns by February 15, 2014.
4. Know your deadlines. Create a spreadsheet with the name of each pending college application. Find and note each college’s financial aid requirements and deadlines. I started looking at one of these for our household on January 1st and learned my first deadline is January 15. Yikes.
For a fast search: enter “college.edu” [use your college name] and “financial aid” into Google. For the next college, just change the college name. Most college financial aid sites have a page about how to apply; most of those “how to apply” pages provide specific needs and deadlines.
5. Track each college’s Student Information System (SIS) instructions. Most colleges acknowledge receipt of applications with instructions on how to sign in to their Student Information System (SIS). Make sure your student follows the instructions, signs in now, and keeps track of the sign-in information. This seems simple enough, but it is even easier to overlook.
The college will post important notifications on the SIS, including:
- missing application elements,
- missing financial aid forms, and
- application decisions.
The college will send an email when decisions are posted, but the college may or may not notify the student of missing information. It’s the student’s responsibility to check the SIS.
6. Take a deep breath. Actually, I may need that advice more than any of this blog’s readers. Perhaps things were calm in your house in the run-up to the college application deadlines. Maybe it feels like there has been a nice, lazy break between the final submission and now. Or, was your experience anything like ours, with an application submitted early evening on December 31st, followed by perusing financial aid deadlines within twenty-four hours? If that’s the case: take a deep breath.
Here we are, less than four months away from sending a deposit to a college. I expect this time to simultaneously drag (as Julie awaits decisions) and fly (as I face financial aid deadlines).
Fasten your seat-belts; we’re still in for a long ride.