By Nate Abbott
If you’re a student entering school in the winter or spring semesters, you may already be worried about starting school a semester or two later than your classmates. Don’t be – within weeks, you’ll be off and running. But one thing you need to be aware of is when you apply for financial aid for winter or spring semesters, paying for school can be a bit trickier than it is for students starting in the fall. However, as long as you’re conscientious of deadlines and what your responsibilities in terms of applying for financial aid are.
How to Get Financial Aid for Winter or Spring Semester
Just like anyone else, you can fill out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) anytime after January 1 of the year you plan on attending school. This gets a bit tricky for students entering in the spring semester – if you’re planning on starting in the Spring of 2012, say, you need to fill out your FAFSA for the 2011 school year, since your school’s financial aid office will calculate your financial aid package based on the previous years’ information.
In most cases, you’ll have to fill out documents for your school’s financial aid office at least a couple of months before your first semester – and the earlier, the better. Contact your advisor, your registrar, or your school’s financial aid office to find out when you need to have all of your paperwork filled out. It takes a great deal of time for financial aid offices to calculate packages for thousands of students, and the earlier they get to your file, the better.
Depending on the school you’re attending and the kinds of federal and private grants and scholarships for which you’re eligible, your financial aid package could look very different. Unfortunately, financial aid funds are limited, and in certain instances it’s more competitive for students applying in the spring than in the fall. So again: make sure to complete as much of your paperwork as early as possible.
Also, take the time during the summer and fall prior to starting classes to explore all the grant and scholarship opportunities you can find. Don’t hesitate to apply, even if you’re not sure you qualify. The biggest mistake people make in financial aid decisions is talking themselves out of applying before they even try. You’d be surprised how many things you qualify for – and since you don’t have to pay scholarships back, they’re far and away the best kind of financial aid there is.
It’s also a good idea to start looking for, and applying to, work-study positions before the spring or winter semesters even start. Work-study positions are great ways to earn extra cash and help offset the cost of going to school, and can give you great experience as well. Again – you’ll need to have filled out your FAFSA in order to know whether or not you qualify for federal work-study assistance, so make sure to do that as early as possible!
Applying to school in the winter or spring semesters can present its own challenges, but as long as you keep an eye on your deadlines, know when your financial aid forms are due, and stay on top of yourself to get everything turned in on time, you’ll be fine.
Nate Abbott is currently a graduate student and a writer for myFootpath.