The beginning of the school year isn't the only time to be concerned about financial aid. The start of a new calendar year offers a perfect time to conduct a full financial aid review.
[Follow this college savings checklist in 2013.]
One thing that surprised me as a parent is how much financial aid can change from year to year. Some forms of scholarships and aid are renewable, but others are not. In addition, there are boxes to check and forms to fill out to keep the aid you currently have, and new forms of aid may come available during your student's time at college.
Here are some of the things we've found are important to do at the start of a new year.
1. Review any current financial aid you have: Make sure you know what your aid worth, if it's one-time aid or renewable, and what you need to do to keep it (such as maintain a certain grade point average).
It's especially ideal for your student to look this over before or shortly after classes begin for the semester, so that he or she can know what is required before coursework becomes too intense.
2. Make a FAFSA plan: The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was made available at FAFSA.gov on January 1. Some forms of financial aid are limited, so it's to your advantage to file early.
[Learn more about the importance of completing the FAFSA.]
In addition, there are three deadlines to be aware of: the federal deadline, state deadline, and school deadline. Make sure you understand what each of those is by reviewing them on the FAFSA website so you'll be prepared.
One tip that might simplify your filing: If you wait until February 1, you can have your IRS information retrieved and transferred to the FAFSA for you.
I was very fortunate to receive a good financial aid package from the University of Kansas. Earning the scholarships, however, was just the beginning of the financial aid process.
Here are some ways to continue monitoring that aid throughout college, but especially at the start of a new semester.
1. Note deadlines for scholarship renewals: I received a journalism scholarship my freshman year, but it was non-renewable, so I've had to reapply every year to be considered for a scholarship again.
Scholarship applications from the journalism school go live once a year, and I like to get that deadline on my calendar sooner, rather than later.
[Find out how to prepare for scholarship season.]
2. Claim your financial aid: For my renewable scholarship, I have to go online every semester to "claim" the full amount. The university then deducts that amount from our tuition bill. Though they usually notify me that it is time to reclaim my financial aid package each semester, those E-mails can slip through the cracks.
If you need to claim your financial aid package, make sure you know the process and when you need to do it in order for the amount to be deducted from your tuition bill.
3. Explore new scholarship opportunities: Although I'm very happy with my scholarship amount, this semester I will be applying to study abroad and attending a diversity retreat, neither of which are covered by my scholarships. Supplemental scholarship applications are available for both of these activities, however, so I can continue to keep the cost of my education low, even for the extras.
If you're doing anything at school that your tuition doesn't cover—such as pledging a fraternity or sorority, joining an honor society, or going on a service trip—explore your options for scholarships for those endeavors as well.