Maryland students should apply early for finanicial aid

January 13, 2003

The Maryland Higher Education Commission is encouraging Maryland's college-bound students to apply as soon as possible for admission and financial aid to ensure full consideration.

"The earlier students apply for admission, the better," said Karen R. Johnson, secretary of higher education. "We are anticipating increased competition for college admissions and for financial aid programs that are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis."

The college admission process varies from institution to institution, but the federal financial aid process always begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form determines whether a student qualifies for need-based, federal aid - like the Pell Grant, the subsidized Stafford loan program - or for Maryland's need-based financial aid programs.

The FAFSA is available online at or on paper, which can be found at libraries, high school guidance offices or by calling for one at the Maryland Higher Education Commission.


The Maryland Higher Education Commission produces the "Student Guide to Higher Education and Financial Aid in Maryland," which includes a thumbnail sketch of all of Maryland's colleges and universities, along with an overview of all of Maryland's grants and scholarships.

Each year, the Office of Student Financial Assistance of the Maryland Higher Education Commission awards more than $80 million in financial aid to Maryland students.

For Maryland high school seniors and others who have begun the process of applying for federal financial aid for the 2003-2004 school year, MHEC offers the following tips to make filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) easier.

If using the paper FAFSA, applicants should print carefully and clearly using only blue or black ink or pencil. No other color ink is accepted;

  • Have Social Security numbers ready for students. Have parents' Social Security numbers ready also if filing on behalf of dependent students;

  • To ensure that the most current financial information is used in calculating aid eligibility, federal tax returns for calendar year 2002 should be completed. If this is not possible, it is fine to estimate tax information;

  • Some schools require students to complete a separate form for institutional aid, so be sure to check with the school;

  • The forms are processed by computer, so do not attach additional materials and write only in the marked spaces on the application, never in the margins;

  • Applicants (or parents, if the applicant is a dependent) without PINs must sign the application or print out and mail a separate signature sheet if filing electronically.

Other useful information:

Students can file electronically or on a paper application. Students are also encouraged to talk to the financial aid directors at the school they hope to attend to learn about financial aid packages and other sources of assistance.

Electronic filing is faster and easier. An estimated eight percent of paper applications are returned for errors, adding time to the application process. By filing electronically, students can avoid delays because the software immediately identifies errors and allows for on-the-spot corrections.

Reapplying for aid is simple - whether filing electronically or on paper - for all filers who applied the previous year regardless of whether the student actually received aid. Students simply add a minimal amount of new information on the renewal form and update any information that has changed from the previous year (family size, for example). For renewal filing over the Web, students are given an electronic access code or PIN that serves as the student's signature. Parents will still have to sign if the applicant is a dependent. Check with the school financial aid administrator for questions about the renewal paper or electronic FAFSA or contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED AID.

PIN numbers are now available and can be requested in advance of filing the electronic FAFSA. Both parents and students can register for a PIN at, so that they can provide an authorization signature without submitting a separate paper signature sheet. It can take 10 to 14 days to receive a PIN once you register. If you are nearing your school's application deadline, use the paper signature and then register for a PIN so that you can electronically access student account information and check on the status of your file with the Department of Education. The PIN can also be used to electronically "sign" other federal documents, such as Stafford promissory notes.

For information about financial aid in Maryland, visit MHEC online at or call 1-800-974-1024 or 1-410-260-4565.

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