During my various experiences with financial aid, I have figured out a few things that I think everyone should know in order to get the most out of all the aid the University of Richmond gives. I got some of my information from Cindy Deffenbaugh, director of student financial aid.

The first thing every student should do: Turn your forms in as EARLY AS POSSIBLE. The day that the FAFSA form (www.fafsa.ed.gov) becomes available, fill it out. Your parents can even get their own PIN number and fill out their information themselves. Once that is filled out, then you should fill out and send in Richmond's form, which is online. Also remember that you have to have the most recent tax forms filled out to fill out the FAFSA.

Once you send in all of your forms, financial aid will process them in the order they receive them, Deffenbaugh said. If you receive loans from the school, you can sign your loan forms on BannerWeb. I didn't know this, and it cost me about two weeks of wait time to receive my refund to buy books, living expenses, etc. Deffenbaugh's advice was to do everything you could at least six weeks before classes start, and I would like to reiterate that and tell you to fill everything out as soon as possible.

The school does not disperse federal loans until the first day of classes. This is because federal regulations say that if schools give out loan money before a student is attending classes, the school has to pay back the loan funds, Deffenbaugh said. Therefore Richmond does not disperse loans until the first day of classes each semester.

If all forms are filled out on time, your loan documents are signed, and you have money left after paying tuition, room and board (if you live on campus, which 92 percent of students do), meal plan and any other things you have to pay, you will get a refund. Deffenbaugh said it would take about a week for you to receive your refund - if you have direct deposit, which you can sign up for at Student Accounts.

Scholarships and university grants usually disperse on the first day of classes. If any money is leftover after you pay your bill, the money is processed and sent as a refund. But if you would prefer, you can go to Student Accounts and have the refund placed on your SpiderCard.

There are also supplementary forms that you can send in after the deadline, if something should happen and you need more aid. Those forms are on the financial aid Web site.

Again, turn everything in as early as possible. One of the excellent aspects about Richmond is that there is a lot of financial aid to go around, but only if you ask for it. There are enough students who receive aid that if you don't turn in your forms by the deadline, there will probably not be much left.

Contact staff writer Stephanie Rice at stephanie.rice@richmond.edu