More than ever, the importance of a college education is evident in today’s competitive world. While the value of a higher education is unmistakable, the approach students and their families will take to pay for the rising cost of tuition is often unclear.
Federal aid serves as a great way to help fund the cost of a college education. Even though the cost of tuition continues to rise, the good news is that the number of available financial aid options is also increasing. One of the most important and necessary steps involved in obtaining federal financial aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA. Below we will provide helpful advice for filing the FAFSA for financial aid to help ensure you get all of the aid you are eligible to receive.
It is a common misunderstanding that students should wait until they are accepted into college before filling out the FAFSA for financial aid. While there continue to be more opportunities to obtain financial aid for college-bound students than ever before, the reality is that most of the money is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
To help you stay on track, we have provided the following timeline for completing FAFSA financial aid forms as well as how and when to accept any awards:
- November—During November of your senior year in high school, you should apply for your FAFSA pin number. Most schools require that this college loan application be filled out to determine how much financial aid you will need.
- January—Begin filling out the FAFSA financial aid form. As early as January 1, you and your parents/guardians can submit your information. It is also a good idea to see if your college(s) of choice requires an additional loan application or form.
- March—After receiving the Student Aid Report (SAR), which contains the information you submitted with the FAFSA, review it to ensure its accuracy. If the tax information is incorrect, you will want to make the necessary adjustments.
- April—Be on the lookout for your acceptance and financial aid award letters. Once you receive your letters, compare them to determine which awards will best meet the needs of you and your family. It is important to keep in mind the distinction between scholarships/grants and loans. College scholarships and grants are free awards which do not have to be paid back, whereas loans, on the other hand, eventually do need to be repaid.
- May—Your financial aid award letter should be signed and returned. Also, remember to decline any award letters from colleges you will not be attending. If the award received from filing the FAFSA financial aid form does not cover all of your costs, you also have the option of filling out an additional college loan application from your local bank. For more details, you can call your college’s financial aid office.
Utilizing this timeline will not only help to ensure that you do not miss an important FAFSA deadline, it will also help to make the financial aid process a smoother one.
Most schools require that you fill out the FAFSA in order to qualify for need-based financial aid. With this college loan application, be prepared to provide a large amount of detailed financial information. The FAFSA asks for similar information of that required when you file for your taxes. If you are not yet ready to file the FAFSA for college financial aid, you can get an estimate of your expected family contribution.
There is more than one way to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. One way is by acquiring the paper format of the FAFSA in the high school guidance office. Using the paper format requires that you mail in the form to the U.S. Department of Education once it is completed.
The other way to file the FAFSA for financial aid is by completing and submitting the form online. Filing the FAFSA online has several advantages:
- First, the form is processed in only two weeks as opposed to four weeks with the paper format.
- Second, you are unable to submit a form with mistakes. As you file the FAFSA for financial aid online, your responses will be checked and any mistakes found will be brought to your attention before you submit the college loan application. If mistakes are found in the paper format of the application, it will be returned for corrections and will need to be resubmitted, expending valuable time.
- Finally, filing the FAFSA online automatically generates an estimate of your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).
Meeting FAFSA Priority Deadlines
While filing the FAFSA for financial aid online has a number of advantages over the paper format, no matter which method you choose, it is extremely important that the college loan application is filed before priority deadlines.
Remember to collect and organize information from tax forms before preparing to complete the FAFSA for financial aid. In addition, to help guarantee you receive all of the financial aid you are eligible for, we recommend you verify the requirements of each of the schools to which you will be applying.
The financial aid process can be very a tedious one, but taking the necessary steps to ensure you are well-prepared will make it feel far less overwhelming.
College-Bound Student Information
In addition to information on filing the FAFSA for financial aid, CollegeView offers an extensive amount of valuable information and resources for the college-bound student. Please follow these links to discover how our articles can help you in your choice for an educational pathway: