by D. Babbs
10 Things College Financial Aid Offices Won't Tell You1. "You waited until April? Sorry, we gave your money away."
At first glance, the available to students seems like a gold mine. According to education testing and information organization The College Board, students received more than $130 billion in aid during the 2006-2007 school year for ; more than $86 billion came from the federal government alone. Problem is, you'll need a treasure map to find your share. The bewildering aid-application process stumps thousands of families each year, leaving many to pay more tuition than they have to.
Lots of students miss out on aid because of the confusing deadlines for the Free Application for (Fafsa), which everybody must complete to be considered for government grants and subsidized loans. The forms, which are available from colleges and at www.fafsa.ed.gov, are reviewed first by the government and then by your student's prospective school. While the deadline on the form is June 30, many schools' individual aid deadlines — listed in the colleges' materials but not on the Fafsa forms — are as early as February.
If you're the parent of a high school senior, keep a list of all the schools' different deadlines. To play it safe, though, apply for aid as soon as any admissions applications are in the mail. "Families need to submit their info as soon as they can after Jan. 1 preceding the student's freshman year," says Barry Simmons, aid director at Virginia Tech. While the forms typically ask for the previous year's tax information — a common reason parents postpone applying until April — it's completely legit to estimate tax figures based on last year's return and update them later.