Senior year of high school is an exciting time for students. There are sports, prom, and of course, college applications! Seniors might be excited about it, but do most know when to apply for college? The answer is: sooner than you might think. If you haven’t applied to school, you don’t need to panic. We’re here to fill both seniors and parents in on what they need to know when it comes to applying for school. The process includes residency, the FAFSA form, and college applications.
First, let us make sure we understand RDS, as it is an integral part of the process. RDS is the North Carolina Residency Determination service. This is what decides whether or not a student will be eligible for in-state tuition and state grants when they apply for school. Eligibility for in-state tuition can make an enormous difference when it comes to the cost for college.
It is important that you understand you need to fill out RDS before you begin applying to schools. In fact, you’re going to need RDS to complete many of your applications. When you fill out RDS, you will be assigned a unique identifier called an “RCN.” That’s your Residency Certification Number. North Carolina colleges will ask for this number as part of the application process.
Once you’ve completed RDS, we recommend that you go ahead and create your FSA ID. Your FSA ID is a username and password that will act as your legal signature for the online systems for Federal Student Aid. Your FSA ID is not part of your college application, but it is needed prior to submitting your FAFSA form for financial aid (more information on that below).
The FSA ID is required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other forms that may be required as part of financial aid. It’s also important to note that both students AND parents need an FSA ID. If your student is a dependent, they will need a parent or legal guardian to sign the FAFSA. That means parents need an FSA ID, too.
It can take a few days for the FSA ID to process, so parents and seniors should create their FSA ID as soon as possible. Not having an FSA ID can hold up the entire financial aid process.
Beginning on October 1 of each year, seniors and parents can complete the FAFSA for the upcoming school year. As you’ve no doubt been told a million times before, the FAFSA is your senior’s ticket to financial aid for college.
The FAFSA helps determine financial aid in all sorts of ways. It will let families know about eligibility for grants, some institutional scholarships, work-study programs, and federal loans that are available. It’s important to note that states have a limited amount of financial aid. Completing the FAFSA as early as possible goes a long way to ensuring that seniors get their maximum financial aid possible.
Now that you and your senior have completed RDS, received your FSA IDs and have filed the FAFSA, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. It’s time for college applications! We’ll get the two most pressing times for applications out of the way first.
Early decision and early action are both types of admissions deadlines where the due date is earlier than regular college applications. Deadlines for early decision and early action are often in the middle of the fall semester of the senior year of high school. Generally, most of these deadlines will fall before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The other big difference is between early decision and early action. When students apply for early decision, they have to commit to just one school. Early decision applications are binding, and you had better be sure that’s where you want to go.
By comparison, while early action can still get students their decision faster, they’re not binding like early decision applications. There’s no guarantee that early decision and early action will give students preference when it comes to admissions. That said, there are some real benefits to applying early.
Students who apply early beat the waiting game by months. This gives them time to reflect on their choices and pick the school that’s right for them. Furthermore, seniors who apply through early action may get their financial aid offer letters faster. This can also be extremely helpful in choosing a college.
What’s more, early decision and action applicants may receive preference in being considered for other opportunities like scholarships, academic programs, and even housing.
This brings us to regular decision applications. Hopefully, seniors have been researching their favorite college and have a good idea of where they want to apply. The vast majority of high school seniors will apply to college using a regular application.
As far as when to apply for college using regular decision applications, they’ll usually be due at the beginning of January. This is during the start of a senior’s spring semester. Seniors will hear back from colleges sometime around March or April.
Even though seniors have until the new year, that’s no excuse to wait on completing regular decision applications. The holidays can be a crazy time, especially for seniors. It’s important that students look at their course load and their holiday plans to make sure they have time to complete applications.
Some colleges, like Harvard, have regular decision deadlines as early as January 1. Don’t let regular decision deadlines sneak up on your senior!
Some colleges don’t even have application deadlines, per se. These colleges use what are called “rolling admissions.” You may see a lot of these at community colleges, as well as some other schools. Rolling admissions mean that these schools will accept college applications throughout the year. Until a class or program fills up, the school will take applications for it.
That doesn’t mean that seniors can slack off! Many of these programs can fill up fast, and seniors can find themselves out of luck if they sleep on their applications.
Now that you have a better idea of when to apply for college and what you’ll need to do it, it’s time to start filling them out. It may seem like a lot, but CFNC is here to help seniors and parents plan, apply, and pay for college. Don’t delay, begin filling out your college applications today!