Road Map for February: Seniors

This month’s big news is around the FAFSA, with the Department of Education announcing that families’ financial aid data will not be sent to colleges until March. This will delay financial aid packages, creating a shorter window for students to make their decisions if they need to take financial aid into consideration. My advice is as follows:

(1) If you haven’t already completed the FAFSA, do it as soon as possible and list the colleges you want the Department of Ed to send the information to.  Then once the data is sent, check all your schools’ portals to make sure your FAFSA has been received and processed.

(2) Have a family conversation about what affordability looks like using actual numbers. It might be useful to talk about how much your family could cover comfortably and what a stretch budget would look like, along with how your family might meet expenses, such as cutting back on other items or having the student contribute from work during the school year or a summer job. If you have a clear idea of what you can pay, you can more easily determine whether each school is affordable when the actual numbers come in.

(3) Schedule admitted student visits and hold time for visits in April so you can develop a firm ranking of your  preferences. Again, this will make it easier to make decisions on a short timeline when the numbers come in.

(4) Keep an open mind about all of your choices in case your top choice doesn’t offer you enough aid to make it work. If you were thoughtful about building your list, all the schools you applied to are places where you could be happy and successful.

(5) Learn about your state financial aid programs, since many of them require the FAFSA to access funding. For DC students, the DC TAG program requires the FAFSA as well as an application from OSSE, which will become available on March 11 this year (delayed from the usual February 1 opening.) Check here for more details, and note that although the deadline is in September, the funding could be allocated before then, so I strongly recommend completing the application within a few weeks of its release.

(6) Do your 2023 taxes. If you need to appeal an aid offer, having the most up-to-date information can help you make your case, especially if your financial situation changed from 2022 (the tax year used on the forms) to 2023.

(7) Some colleges have already announced that they’re extending their decision deadlines beyond May 1. You can check here for the most recent list from NACAC, and keep an eye on your email as well, since colleges you’ve applied to may contact you directly with these updates. But in the meantime, do what you can to be ready to make a decision.