Start early. Most schools' websites and admissions materials will offer you a step-by-step guide to their financial aid process. Look especially for the deadlines.
If you don’t know the timeline, ask. It’s especially important to understand the difference between the deadlines for admission applications and financial aid applications.
Don’t hesitate to be honest with financial aid staff members. Feel free to call financial aid directors, develop a relationship, and be open about the information the schools need to make good decisions.
Ask questions that will give you a sense of what to expect. For example, ask what percentage of students receive financial aid, what is the school’s average grant, and what options exist if you don’t get the aid you need?
Make good use of the time after you turn in your financial aid applications and before you hear back from the school. Check with the financial aid office to make sure all your materials have arrived and your situation is clear. Also continue to research other sources of money in case you don’t receive the full amount to meet your financial need. You can look into everything from loans to other friends or family members who might be willing to help out.