Whether you’re the first in your family to apply for college or you have an experienced parent at the helm, chances are one of the first questions on your mind is: When do I start applying for scholarships and financial aid? While you may be looking for an exact answer to that question, the truth is it depends on a number of factors. A rule of thumb from the experts at CommunityForce? The earlier, the better.
Those who qualify
You might be surprised to know that, given the right scholarship, even middle school students may be eligible to apply. While it’s true that many scholarships have deadlines that fall early in a student’s senior year of high school, some are more open-ended ones to allow for a larger pool of applicants. As you research, take note of any specific grade level requirements as well.
Crafting a timeline
Once you’ve collected a list of suitable options, mark the due dates in a calendar or planner for easy access. You can also use platforms like Communityforce to organize all of the scholarships you’re interested in. From there, you’ll be able to work backward and figure out how much time you’ll need to get your materials – including an essay, letters of recommendation and test scores – together for each submission.
It’s important to note that sometimes scholarships can come with lengthy application processes, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. A one- to two-week cushion should be sufficient in most cases. Whatever you do, don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll be forced to rush through the application process; applying is the first step in making sure you secure the funds you need for your all-important education.
If you’re having difficulty finding that sweet spot for submission time, keep in mind that many applications are due approximately a year in advance. As the Federal Student Aid website points out, the ideal time to apply falls during the summer between your junior and senior year of high school.
An ongoing process
Take special note of the phrase “the ideal time,” as it doesn’t mean the only time. Many students fall into the trap of thinking that applying for scholarships is a one-time undertaking when, in reality, there are always new ones available for which they may be eligible. You should also consider there may be date restrictions placed on the scholarships you do receive, so funding that is in place for your first year of college may not be available for the remaining school years.
The Sallie Mae Fund states that students should think of applying to scholarships as a continuous process, applying at least a year before the funds are needed and every year thereafter as an enrolled student. Upon arriving at the college of your choice, you may find there are even more on-campus resources available to help you secure the financial aid you need.
If you miss a deadline, don’t get discouraged. Instead, keep your eyes focused on finding additional opportunities, adhering to future deadlines, and completing requirements for other applicable scholarship programs.
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