College Planning: Financial Aid To-Do List

The sooner you start a concrete action plan for financial aid, the better. Begin using this checklist no later than your freshman or sophomore year in high school.

  1. Use our guide to figure out what your family can pay, based on savings, assets, earnings, investments and so on.
  2. Have a discussion with your parents about finances. Let them know what portion, if any, you expect them to pay.
  3. Brainstorm ways to come up with your share: part-time or summer jobs, applying for scholarships or grants and so on.
  4. Start researching schools, collecting applications and studying their financial aid packages.
  5. Explore scholarship opportunities from public and private sources.
  6. Fill out the FAFSA online and file it early—as soon after January 1 as possible—for the widest range of financial aid options.
  7. After you receive acceptance letters, compare award offers to choose the most attractive package.
  8. If loans are involved, learn about repayment options and calculate monthly payments.
  9. Make a decision. Respond before the school’s deadline, supplying any additional information requested.
  10. Inform the colleges whose offers you’re not accepting so the money can quickly be offered to another deserving student.