Want money? Start now.

Application season is creeping up on us very quickly. Most of you seniors have probably already started your applications, and hopefully your essays are well on their way toward fully-crafted. Early deadlines will begin popping up in November, and December and January will round out the bulk of your application deadlines.

But in the midst of your final decision-making about where to apply, and your submitting of applications, you also need to be forward-thinking about the cost of college. Now is also the time to begin applying for scholarships. If you wait to research scholarship money until after you’re admitted — and I’ve encountered a few students every year who do — you’ll be way behind the ball, and you’ll have missed most colleges’ and other organizations’ deadlines.

I hope this is obvious to most of you, but I want to be clear in case you haven’t thought about it too much. The college process is not just a matter of applying, getting accepted, and then thinking about money; you need to think about money even as you’re deciding where to apply, investigating schools’ need- and merit-based aid programs well ahead of time.

Many colleges (Richmond is one of them) have separate deadlines for their scholarship programs, and many (Richmond is not one of these) require additional applications for these scholarships. At Richmond, all you need to do to apply for our Richmond Scholars Program is submit your application by December 15; nothing additional is required, unless you want to apply for the Artist or Science Scholar designation. Last year, we had an applicant pool of almost 8000; yet, of these, only about 5000 applied by December 15 (forcing me to muse on why anyone wouldn’t do so). And I spoke with students (and parents), when April rolled around, who were admitted but were wondering how to apply for scholarships. When told about the scholarship deadline they had not met, most asked whether they could be considered retroactively (truly impossible, since the consideration process is a months-long affair involving several rounds and faculty committees). Sorry, kids — you missed the boat.

Now is the time to check on colleges’ requirements for scholarship consideration, and it’s also the time to be checking out other scholarship sources as well. Many scholarships from outside sources and local organizations also require applications that are due throughout the fall, so be sure to keep these on your radar screen. FastWeb.com is the best resource I know among internet scholarship databases, and your high school guidance office can probably point you toward a variety of local scholarship sponsors.

The only area where you really can’t do much until after the new year is in the need-based aid category, where the FAFSA does not become available until January and most schools’ submission deadlines are in February. Just make sure your parents are organized and prepared to file their taxes as early as possible in the year, since tax returns are an important part of this process.

So start now. Start early. There’s a lot of money out there, and despite the rising costs of higher education, even a top-notch college education can still be very affordable if you’re willing to invest the time, effort, and thought into seeking out scholarships and aid sources.

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