The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form which needs to be filled out when applying for a college grant or low-interest student loan. This is a required form in the U.S. if the student wants to be considered for financial aid.
Students who do not fill out this application and file it by the designated deadlines may find themselves missing out on great opportunities to help them fund their higher education.
In years past this process was tedious at best, but since the application has been moved to the web environment that has not only simplified the process, but has also speeded up the evaluation process. Students who file the FAFSA application online can expect to get a much faster response than those who file the paper application.
To prepare to fill out the FAFSA it is necessary to first collect all the financial paperwork and verification needed to fill out all the application’s details in full. It is a good idea to fill out the application as thoroughly as possible the first time around because while revisions can be made, this can delay the application process. By leaving blanks or omissions of information there is a high probability of receiving a follow-up letter requesting the missing details and this will result in a holdup of potential aid.
The best way to tackle the FAFSA application is to prepare and plan before you file. By doing the application a step at a time, you can significantly reduce stress and ensure you have a properly filled out application.
*How to Prepare to Use the FAFSA Website
>Have a valid e-mail address
>File for a PIN number
>Find out College Codes
These three components are necessary in order to file the FAFSA application. Since most correspondence will take place via e-mail, a valid e-mail address you have regular access to is critical. If the Federal Student Aid Office has questions or updates, most of this information will go through the e-mail address you provided on your application.
A PIN number is required to gain access to your application to continue filling out or to revise. In addition this unique number is how you will be able to gain access to your financial information and to serve as your electronic signature when you file your application. You can request and receive your own PIN number on the official website.
When the FAFSA is filed, students need to select colleges to send their financial aid information to. It is OK to choose more than one school if you have not quite narrowed down your selections yet. You may want to put a few choices down because some schools may offer more attractive financial packages than others and this may help you in the decision making process.
Each college is assigned a unique code. To get the college codes you need for the FAFSA form you can look these up right on the FAFSA website or you can simply call the college’s financial aid department and request their assigned code number.
*Planning the Application
There is a lot of organization entailed when filing the FAFSA application. To file you’ll need access to the most recent tax information, social security number, and for students who are 24 and under will need to also include their parents’ most recent tax information.
The Federal Financial Aid Office has specific deadlines, but often colleges have their own deadlines for the FAFSA to be completed; typically the latter comes earlier. For the federal government the deadline is typically June 30, but some colleges set a cut-off date as early as March. When getting ready to file it is always a wise idea to find out any relevant deadlines you have so you can plan accordingly.
The financial aid process is not fast nor does it only go through one channel. The better organization and planning you do, the easier time you’ll have filing. First time filers will find the process very time consuming (this is easier in subsequent years because it is only a matter of updating, but the first time is lengthy).
*Filing the FAFSA
After you have done the preparation and planning, next you have to actually fill out the web application and file it.
To start you log in with your PIN and have all your information (and your parents’ details if required) and begin to fill out the questions. Be sure to save work frequently in case the website unexpectedly shuts down, times out or your computer freezes up; you will see the “save” button on the bottom of each page, use it frequently! Nothing worse than losing all those numbers and details.
One the application is filled out in its entirety, next step is to proofread carefully and double check financials to ensure the numbers are all correct. One minor typo may result in an immediate denial if the numbers don’t reflect your actual financial situation (i.e. entering $100,000 as your income when it’s really $10,000 can dramatically affect the evaluation process). In addition if anything looks amiss, there is a good chance you will be questioned and asked to clarify; this could delay your potential award.
After the application is complete and accurate, next is to send. This requires the aforementioned PIN number to sign the application and then hit submit.
Filing FAFSA on the web is a free process and you will never be charged for filing. Many sites offer a platform, but charge a fee. Be sure you register with the official FAFSA website and not a .com or .org site. You can find the official page at www.fafsa.ed.gov.