The blog for CNN’s American Morning has up a helpful post on applying for financial aid for college.

The key is for students to begin the application process early. If they don’t, an already bad situation can get worse, and some good opportunities can be missed:

Additionally, many schools have created “adverse economic circumstances funds” to help those families hit especially hard by the recession. Michigan State University, for instance, created a $500,000 fund to help such families. In-state rival University of Michigan at Dearborn set aside $300,000 for emergency aid. And schools like James Madison University are raising money from alumni for additional emergency funds.

But if you don’t send in your financial aid forms early, such grants could be used up even if your family might have otherwise qualified. Plus, when you submit your financial aid forms earlier, this frees up more time to focus on winning merit-based scholarships.

Of course, the effects of a bad economy trickle down, and high school students in this position probably have a lot going on now to distract them.

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Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.