Completing your FAFSA can seem like a harrowing task - tax documents are required, personal information from yourself as well as your parents is often needed, and the entire process can help determine just how much financial support you'll get going into college.
Fortunately, the FAFSA process isn't as terrifying as it might seem, and there are a few simple things you can do to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.
- Find out your enroll dates from your college or university, and get started well ahead of time. Generally, schools have a set date for when they require all financial aid information to be submitted. Waiting until this date to complete your FAFSA is a bad idea - you want to have started the process at least 2-3 weeks before then, and preferably more like 2-3 months ahead of time. Check out your schools calendar, or call your admissions office if you aren't sure.
- Talk to your parents about their tax documents. If you're a dependent - living with your parents, or relying on them financially - then you'll need their tax information to show the federal government how much assistance you need. Your FAFSA application will only require the past year of taxes, so your parents won't need to dig far. Because most people file electronically these days, there's a good chance they'll be able to log on to their online tax management site, pull up a PDF of their information, and help you get their tax info down right.
- Decide what kind of aid you are willing to accept. All you really need to know for this is whether or not you want to pay back the money you receive. Loans - money that you'll have to pay back once you finish college - gather interest and can be difficult to pay back if you don't have a steady stream of income right out of college. Grants and scholarships - money which you do not have to pay back - don't have any strings attached (usually), but can be harder to get. By deciding now whether or not you're comfortable with loans, you can save yourself the stress of deciding when you're in the middle of your FAFSA application.
- Create a FAFSA ID. If this is your first time filling out a FAFSA, you'll need to make an official FAFSA ID that links your information to the FAFSA site. This is a one-time process, and the Department of Education makes it easy to do so here!
- Relax and let the FAFSA do the work. Many scholarships that are not provided by the state or federal government request FAFSA information - by going ahead and getting your FAFSA filled out now; you're setting yourself up for more financial opportunities with other groups. Your college or university and the department you're in likely have specific scholarships that pull information from your FAFSA, as well as national groups that fund students just like you. Fill out your FAFSA, and rest easy knowing that you've taken a big step towards securing your educational future!
Got questions? We've got answers. You can always contact us if you want to know more about filling out the FAFSA, applying for financial aid, or learning about every aspect of the college admissions process.
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