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    Countdown to College Cash

    Use this handy schedule to help you keep tabs on financial aid deadlines, scholarship due dates, and everything in between.

    When it comes to paying for college, money isn't all that matters. Timing is also key. Use this handy schedule to help you keep tabs on financial aid deadlines, scholarship due dates and everything in between.

    Freshman, Sophomore and Junior Years

    Encourage your teen to work hard on improving his GPA, and to take the ACT and/or SAT at least once by spring of his junior year. Have him keep track of his activities, so he will have that record when it's time to fill out applications.

    Help him find a part-time job in order to start saving for his education.

    Senior Year: Fall

    Encourage your student to keep his grades up!

    Ask him about his ACT and/or SAT scores. Discuss retaking the test(s) if he thinks it could improve his scores.

    Find out what financial assis-tance information your student re-ceived from his guidance counselor. Encourage him to check with the guidance counselor regularly to pick up scholarship applications. You'll be surprised at all the awards out there.

    Make sure he's grabbed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which he will use to apply for federal, state and individual college aid. (Or you can apply online at Just make sure you register for a PIN number before you fill out the online application.) Once the FAFSA is processed, you'll see what your Expected Family Con- tribution(EFC)will be. The EFC is the amount of money you and your child will be expected to pay for college.

    Be sure you have all the financial aid forms that are required by the colleges your student is considering.

    Senior Year: Winter

    Make copies of your latest tax return (or have estimates of those figures) to send along with the completed FAFSA. Include copies of your student's latest tax return too, if he has one. Send everything in as soon after January 1 as possible.

    Be sure any additional forms that are required by a specific school are sent on time.

    Photocopy all forms before sending them in.

    Watch your mailbox for the Student Aid Report (SAR), which should arrive a few weeks after you mail the FAFSA. This is an opportunity to make corrections to the original figures (especially if they were estimates) and get an idea of how much money your family will have to contribute for college.

    If you do update your information, send it on to the FAFSA folks. Some colleges will even file these changes for you. Find out if the schools he's been considering provide this service.

    If the SAR doesn't arrive within four weeks of filing the FAFSA, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID and ask about the report. You can also check the status online at

    Have him contact the financial aid offices at colleges he's considering to find out about grants, loans and work-study opportunities.

    Keep your eyes peeled for scholarships. Your child might be eligible for awards from the colleges he is considering, based on academics, athletic ability or leadership potential. Don't give up on outside scholarships. Encourage him to continue asking his guidance counselor for information.

    Senior Year: Spring

    By mid-March or early April, your student should begin to receive award notices from those colleges he applied to. These notices explain what kinds of aid he will receive, how much he has been awarded, where it will all come from, and what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be.

    Pray for and with your teen about which college he should attend. When he's chosen one, make sure he's sent in the original Student Aid Report to that school's financial aid office (if they require it). And keeps a copy for himself.

    Congratulate him on his hard work and dedication in making this decision!

    Thanks to Donna Peltz, Director of Financial Aid at Wheaton (Ill.) College, who helped with this article.

    Answers to 15 common questions about completing financial aid applications.