For high school seniors, financial aid season is upon us. What can your family do to ensure that you stay on top of deadlines, submit all the right information, and get as much financial aid as possible? Follow these five steps to put you and your student on the right path.

1. Make A Timeline

When it comes down to the admissions and financial aid process, nothing is as important as deadlines. Make a timeline that includes every school your student is applying to, along with all of the admission due dates, financial aid requirements, and follow-up schedule. This will guarantee that you miss no deadlines, submit all of the correct forms, and make sure that the school has received all of the information that they have asked for from your family.

For Ensphere families, we will guide you through each step of this process. Our financial aid software lists your deadlines and requirements in one place.

2. Know What the College is Asking For

Many colleges, especially when considering Early Decision applicants, will ask for additional information that your family may not have had to submit with the CSS PROFILE or FAFSA forms. For instance, Cornell has asked for a copy of the parents’ tax return for all Early Decision applicants. It is important to check each college’s website along with our financial aid software to see if your schools have any additional requirements. Again, if you miss a deadline, it could be the other person who submitted their tax returns on time that gets accepted, leaving you on the outside looking in.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

If you aren’t sure whether the financial aid office needs something, ASK! Applying to 8 or more schools can get crazy and confusing. Different schools ask for different kinds of documents and data. If you aren’t sure what the school needs, it is better to be safe than sorry. A 30-second phone call is all it takes to ensure that the correct documents are being sent to the financial aid office.

4. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

There is a reason we tell students to apply to over 8 schools, and it isn’t just to guarantee you are accepted to at least one. It’s all about matching the student to the school that wants him or her the most, and using that financial aid package to increase your leverage against other schools. One school may give a lower offer than expected, but if you have a better offer from another school, you may use that to try and raise the offer from the low-offer school.

5. Hire a Group of Professionals

Hiring a professional who works with high school and college-aged students every day about the financial aid process will pay dividends. Whether it be to help you maintain your timeline of financial aid forms, to answer questions about income or assets a college is asking for, or to help assess different financial aid offers. True college planning firms have the knowledge and experience to maximize your family’s opportunities for receiving financial aid.