Autumn has arrived. The earth’s rotation, a cyclical process, has caused the temperatures to drop, the leaves to change color and fall, and the hours of daylight to diminish. It may not be the beginning of a new year, but it is the beginning of a new season, and with it comes the opportunity to reapply for financial aid.

If you haven’t already heard, October 1, 2016, is now the first day you can fill out the FAFSA online. You may be wondering why this is significant. There are actually many reasons, but the most important reason is, because it helps you, the student, learn what you are eligible for (in financial aid) much earlier in the year. As you review your financial aid offers from various institutions, you can make a decision sooner than you’ve ever been able to make before. This puts you in the BEST position to secure the college of your choice early and to negotiate the best financial aid package.

There are several steps you need to take to apply for financial aid. First, gather all of your personal and financial information together before you sit down to complete the FAFSA. Once you have done that, you need to apply for an FSA ID. You can do that by going to www.StudentAid.gov/fsaid. Next, you will use your FSA ID to apply for aid at fafsa.gov. You will use the data retrieval tool to pull in your 2015 tax information. Within a few days, you will receive an email notifying you that your FAFSA has been processed. After your FAFSA is received and processed by your school, you will receive your student aid report. You can then review your student aid report and determine whether or not you will accept the aid your school offers you. Remember, you can submit your FAFSA to several different colleges or universities at once and compare offers.

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Finally, as you make your decision to go to a particular college, you can contact your academic advisor and your financial aid counselor to create a degree plan and a budget for your academic year. Both resources will help you map out a plan for success, both academically and financially. Most importantly, though, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Choosing the right college, the right degree, and making smart financial decisions are not just a priority now, but a priority for your future. Seek help whenever you need it. No question is too big or too small. Applying for aid is not hard, it just takes time. Doing it sooner gets you more aid, so don’t wait.