It’s that time of year again. With February just around the corner, many parents of college-age children are scrambling to complete their financial aid applications. While technically there is no official deadline for the federal form, called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form (FAFSA), most schools give priority to applications received by March 1.

At eight pages and 85 questions long, filling out the FAFSA is not a fun task. Plus, most private schools require that parents complete another lengthy form, as well. But, with the average cost of a four-year private school for the 2004-2005 year a whopping $20,082—up 6 percent from the year before, according to the College Board—it’s also something most parents need to do. About $122 billion in financial aid, including grants and loans, was awarded in the 2003-2004 school year, according to the most recent figures from the College Board, an increase of 11 percent over the year before.

In fact, advisors suggest that clients should apply even it they don’t, at first glance, seem to be eligible for aid. Although families with a household income of over $100,000 generally don’t receive aid, many parents might have extenuating circumstances that could increase the likelihood of their receiving grants—if they have multiple children in college at the same time, for example, or if they’re close to or at retirement age. “The older you are as a parent with school-age children, the more credit you get for your age,” says Bruce Harrington, vice president of MFS Investment Management in Boston. Plus, in order to apply for other aid, such as grants made by the school, parents must fill out the FAFSA form.

At the same time, parents should look on financial aid as just one part of the puzzle, according to Harrington. “They need three pools of money—financial aid, savings and current income,” he says.