college deadlines

With all of the media attention recently about President Obama’s executive order requiring the use of prior-prior year income and the changes it will bring to the financial aid application timeline, we thought this would be a good time to step back and present what the college finance timeline should look like for this year’s seniors. It hasn’t changed!

For students entering college in the fall of 2016, here’s what you should do and when:

Starting now:

Research and identify private scholarship sources. Deadlines for these programs vary widely, and can be as early as today and as late as summer 2016. Most deadlines take place in the late fall/early winter.

October 2015-February 2016:

Apply for admission and for college scholarships. Pay close attention to what is posted on each college’s website about when and how to apply for admission and scholarships. While most colleges consider you for merit scholarships as a part of their admission process, some require additional application materials. It is also not unusual for a college to have a special “priority” deadline for your admission application to be submitted in order to receive maximum consideration for scholarships. These deadlines often fall in late November and into December. Research each of the colleges you are considering, and develop a tracking system to monitor their deadlines.

January – February 2016:

Apply for need-based financial aid by completing the 2016-2017 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will become available on January 1, 2016. Most colleges will have deadlines for FAFSA completion in the February-March time frame. You will need to research the financial aid office website of each of the colleges you are considering to determine what their deadlines are and what other forms are required. Add this information to the tracking system you’ve set up.

Beat deadlines whenever possible and NEVER miss a deadline waiting to complete your tax return—just fill out the form using estimated income information. Also note: there are currently almost 400 (mostly private) institutions that require you to complete the CSS/PROFILE to be considered for need-based aid. Again, each school will have a different deadline for completion of the form – most deadlines fall between late January and early March.

During this time, colleges might also ask you to provide additional documentation, such as copies of previous’ years’ tax returns. Respond in a timely manner to all requests.

Please note: If you are applying to a college through their binding Early Decision process, deadlines will be earlier than described above. Check the college’s website for more information.

Mid-March-April 2016:

Receive financial aid notifications from the colleges to which you have been accepted, compare the net costs of each school, and decide if it is appropriate to ask for more money from any of  them.

May 1, 2016:

This is the National Candidate Reply date, and the date by which you must notify a school of your intent to enroll and make an enrollment deposit (if required).

Summer 2016:

The college you’ve chosen will communicate with you about any remaining forms and documents they require. If you are planning to borrow student or parent loans, this is when you will complete the necessary paperwork. Remember – the college will communicate primarily with the student, not the parent, about what is needed. Be sure to check your new college email address regularly throughout the summer before you enroll, as this is how they will keep you informed.

And just about as quickly as you’ve read this blog post, your senior year will be over and you’ll be embarking on your college adventure!  For those of you who are not seniors this year, stay tuned to the Insider blog for updates on what the college finance timetable will look like going forward – we will keep you informed as the implementation of the  prior-prior year income requirement progresses.


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Written by Kathy Ruby
Kathy Ruby is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Before joining College Coach, Kathy was as a Senior Financial Aid Officer at St. Olaf College and Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.