2. Fill out special circumstances forms if needed
You’ll also want to double check your FAFSA® and state financial aid applications to make sure you’ve completed all forms accurately. For instance, are all the schools on your final list on your FAFSA® form? If not, you may not be on their list of students who need financial aid.
The FAFSA® form doesn’t always provide the most accurate financial information about your current situation. This is because the FAFSA® requires your taxes from two years before. If your family or individual income has changed since then, you’ll need to fill out a special circumstances form for each college you may want to attend.
The special circumstances form is available at financial aid offices and provides a way to share more details about your current finances. You can also talk to financial aid counselors about extenuating circumstances. Filling the form out as soon as possible helps you avoid being overlooked for first-come, first-serve scholarship and college grant funding.
3. Develop your strategy for 529 college savings plan withdrawals
If you have a 529 savings plan, now’s the time to think about how much you’d like to withdraw each year, depending on how much scholarship money you’re offered, and other varying circumstances.
If you bought tuition in advance via a prepaid tuition plan, you have different concerns. Bob Cole, president of Private College 529 Plan says, “Before taking money from your prepaid account to redeem tuition, you should work with your plan or tax advisor, or both, to ensure the best use of your tuition.”
“If you are paying some of the college expenses (not room and board) from current income or non-529 savings, you might be able to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit when you file your federal taxes,” Cole says. “You can’t ‘double dip’ by using 529 funds and claiming the credit for the same expense.”
4. Do shadow days and other career exploration activities
While you’re waiting to find out which schools accept you, it’s the perfect time to think about your college major.
"Shadow days" are essentially mini internships you can do in as little as a couple of hours. You’ll ask questions of someone in your field who has a job you’d like to have in the future. You may also just observe their day. High school counselors can help advise you on how and where to arrange shadow days. Try to do five in a semester.
Get college ready
Use your time between applying and attending college wisely. By researching both career and financial options now, you’ll be better prepared to evaluate your colleges’ major options and financial aid packages when your acceptance letters arrive.