Where do I start applying for financial aid?

By Beth Ziehmer

January 03, 2017

If you are a high school senior or the parent of a senior, the next few months can be crucial to applying for financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and loans. As with any new process, try not to be overwhelmed with the big picture, but instead work through the needed steps to do the best you can to find the financial aid for which you may qualify.

  1. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if you haven't already. Keep in mind that:
    • You and one parent will need an FSA ID to be able to sign the FAFSA electronically.
    • Abide by your school's and state's FAFSA completion deadline.
    • Even if you don't think you will qualify for need-based aid, such as grants or loans, you might need the FAFSA to be considered for scholarships.
  2. Get organized with your activities, achievements, volunteer hours, etc.
  3. Plan to apply for institutional aid at the school. They may have one centralized application, or separate applications per scholarship program.
  4. Check with your high school counselor about local or corporate scholarships. Remember, that you are likely not your counselor's only student, so follow their instructions on how to get scholarship information to free up their time to answer more unique questions.
  5. Develop a scholarship essay that makes a strong impression. You will likely be able to tweak to fit different scholarship applications. You may still need to develop multiple essays, but having one already completed will speed up the application process.
  6. Don't procrastinate. If you don't have many applications right now, don't put them off until you have more to do, get them completed and submitted.
  7. Keep copies of your application materials for future reference.
  8. Watch all deadlines! Keep track of your to-do items in a planner or calendar so you don't miss them.

For more information about scholarship search tips, visit mappingyourfuture.org/paying/scholarshipsearch.cfm.