Making College Affordable Is All About Timing

It's the time of year when colleges start sending out acceptance letters to hopeful applicants. That moment of pure joy that comes from opening an admissions letter from your dream school is frequently followed by a much longer period of worry about one question: how to pay for it all?

Financial aid is one of the best options, since you don't have to pay it back as you do with loans. The process of applying for financial aid and how schools decide who gets it can be hard to grasp. One factor that may not seem important, but can make a big difference, is timing.

Financial aid applications are much more successful when applicants follow the "U Curve," says Vinay Bhaskara of the higher education advice site CollegeVine. The U Curve is the principle that applications should be submitted either immediately after acceptance or right before starting school and not in the period in between. These windows are when colleges are most likely to disperse money.

Right after acceptance, schools are competing to attract students who may have also been accepted to other schools.

"Basically the idea is that at the beginning, it's hot off the iron so universities have just accepted you and they're looking to attract as many students as possible," Bhaskara said.

Later, as the academic year approaches, colleges are looking to spend aid money they may have been holding onto earlier in the process.

"Near the end of the matriculation period, they’ll know largely who’s in their class so they’ll have some money left over," Bhaskara said.

It may seem trivial, but when you apply for financial aid can be a critical factor in overcoming the daunting task of paying for college.

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