When it comes to applying for student loans the application deadline is everything. One might think proof of salary and the Estimated Family Contribution are the most important. While the EFC and Cost of Attendance are obviously very important for awarding financial aid, these figures will not even be calculated unless you get the application in on time.

The major mistake that people make is applying for financial aid only after they’ve been accepted at college. After all, how can you calculate the Cost of Attendance if you are not certain where you will be attending? You can still calculate the Cost of Attendance without being accepted to a school. It is important to organize financial aid information at the same time as you are deciding on where to apply.

The Cost of Attendance will factor into where you apply for college. It may be the case that you can only afford what is awarded by the Pell Grant – up to $4,000. This will cover the cost of going to a community college but will not cover the costs of many state and private universities. The Cost of Attendance and the potential financial aid package are key to the decision-making process.

Making Deadlines

Just as college applications have differing deadlines, so do financial aid packages. The FAFSA deadline is in February – after the deadline for college applications but before acceptance letters have been sent out. It’s a good idea to send in FAFSA and other financial aid applications early to ensure the applications are processed properly. If there are mistakes in the application, these need to be ironed out in due time.

This is especially important for financial aid programs like the FSEOG, which is awarded on a first come, first serve basis. If there are mistakes on the application, you may lose out on financial aid programs that have limited funds. If you apply early, you'll have a better chance to receive the award.


Financial aid opportunities

Some deadlines may be quite early – as early as October – so it is important to start investigating financial aid opportunities in the summer, or the early fall at the latest. Some colleges have early decision deadlines for need-based grants and scholarships, so research each school’s financial aid deadlines where you are applying.

If you are having trouble sorting through financial aid opportunities and deadlines, be sure to meet with a college advisor or sign up for a financial aid workshop. This will help you organize financial aid applications and the different aid opportunities available for each and every school. One school may have a scholarship for a particular academic field, while another may not. Two schools may offer similar scholarships with different application deadlines. Needless to say, it can be confusing. There is one basic truth: the earlier you apply, the better.