If You're Looking For College Financial Aid, Start Right Now

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Parents of college-aged children know Jan. 1 isn't just the first date of the new year -- as the "shotgun start" to the college financial aid process, it's much more important than that.

That's the day the all-important Free Application for Federal Student Aid form can be sent out.

In many ways, the hunt for college financial aid money is as competitive as the search for a good school. College financial aid is limited, and if you're too late to the table there's a good chance you'll miss out for your college-aged son or daughter.

That's a big miss for parents, given the average tuition for a four-year private school is about $30,000 annually and a four-year state school (for an in-state student) is almost $10,000 per year.

"The cost associated with going to college is not decreasing, so it continues to be critical for students and their families to be savvy consumers when it comes to planning for college costs," said Christine Brown, executive director of college programs at Kaplan Test Prep. "Students and parents need to be strategic and proactive in order to improve their chances of securing strong financial aid packages and scholarships."

The company urges families to do the following to score more financial aid cash:

Apply early. Kaplan says getting to the table early is just one of several steps college families have to take to maximize the amount of college financial aid money they'll earn. But it might be the most important one.

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