Personal Finance: Early birds get better school aid

Wed Jan 20, 2010 6:30pm EST
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By Linda Stern

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Memo to parents of high school seniors: This is no time to sit back and relax, even if your child has filed all of those college applications.

It's time for you to fill out the financial aid request forms -- right now -- even before you do your taxes and figure out exactly how much you made in 2009.

That's because early birds tend to get more generous aid packages. Though most financial aid filing deadlines extend all the way into the summer for the fall deadline, financial aid administrators do often give out more aid early in the season.

With tuition bills rising and more families needing and qualifying for aid, it's good to get your request in early.

Here's what you need to know.

-- The most important form to fill out is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. You can find it at Other sites that have .com endings may ask you to pay to submit your form, something you shouldn't have to do.

As the Department of Education reminds: "Remember, the first F in 'FAFSA' stands for 'free' -- so use the official government site to submit your application." The FAFSA is the one form that virtually all financial aid offices require. In addition, you will need to fill out this form if your child wants to take out low-interest federal student loans.

-- There are other forms, too. Many private colleges and universities also require the college board's PROFILE form, available here Some schools require their own form, as well. Contact the financial aid office of every school your child is applying to, to find out exactly which forms they require.   Continued...

<p>A student walks on the campus of San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California June 30, 2009. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>