I just came from my son’s first baseball game of the season. He’s only 8, so the stakes aren’t very high despite my intensity as Head Coach, but it is competitive and it is fun. In baseball, whether it’s throwing or hitting, the ability to follow through can yield successful results. It’s the same in many other areas of life, including pursuit of a financial aid award.

By this time of year most financial aid forms should have been filed, and families are anxiously awaiting news from schools on both admissions and financial aid awards. Many students have already heard from schools, and now it’s just a matter of finding out where the money will come from. A key mistake that parents make is to sit back and wait for the money to arrive, expecting a spring visit from Santa Claus.

There are a few key steps that parents should take once their financial aid forms have been filed. The first step is to get in touch with the school to make sure that they have received your FAFSA application, and if the school requires the CSS Profile then make sure they have received that, too. This serves two purposes: 1. To make sure that you submitted everything correctly; and 2. The opportunity to establish any kind of rapport with the financial aid office.

The next all-important step is to complete your 2010 tax returns. Don’t wait on this important step, since many financial aid awards will be contingent upon the school viewing and verifying that the info you entered on the application is consistent with what is on your tax return. Even if your student is already enrolled in college, your award for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th year may not be forthcoming if you delay in submitting your tax return to the school. I know a student who learned this the hard way last year at UNC because her father didn’t send the tax return to school until mid-summer.

Finally, you should make the school aware of any changes to your financial circumstances, such as a lay-off, an expensive medical issue, a challenging business environment for your small business, or a separation or divorce. By doing so you are setting the stage for an appeal of your financial aid award, a process that can yield significant, additional dollars.

If you want to maximize your financial aid prospects, you need to bird dog your way through the process and follow through. Don’t be complacent. This is not the time to let down your guard. Sometimes it takes a closer to win a baseball game. You’re now in the late innings of the financial aid process, so be sure to follow through until you get that generous award.

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