The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or the FAFSA) is exactly what its name implies: it is the form that students (US residents or eligible noncitizens) attending or looking to attend college in the US use to apply for grants and loans to assist in the cost of education. Unlike most scholarship applications, the monetary assistance comes directly from the federal government, supplied by the Department of Education's yearly budget.
The official FAFSA site cites the DOE as the "largest provider of student financial aid in the nation," providing assistance over 13 million students yearly. And with $150 billion to give, they're right to claim that. But the process of applying can seem frightening and overwhelming, especially for first-year students or transfers who are also dealing with the application process to their top-pick colleges. To make it easy, here's a helpful list of do's and don'ts when applying for federal financial aid.
- Do check the FAQ page on the official website. Most problems have already been solved by people who have come before you.
- Do make certain all of your income information is correctly filed (or your parents' income information if you're legally their dependent). It's necessary for the government to make certain you're not Bill Gates' secret child collecting on government money.
- Do ask for help! Whether it is your college of choice or someone you know, don't be afraid to ask questions. Most college's financial aid advisors have been through the process a hundred times over, and aren't afraid to go through it with you as well. Whether it is your first time applying or your eighth, use the resources at your disposal.
- Don't freak out. It's going to seem like a big to-do, but it isn't. Most people don't spend longer than a half-hour total to submit it, so just take a deep breath and take it step-by-step.
- Don't pay for it. The acronym starts with FREE, so there's no fee to fill it out. If you Google it, the first result is the official FAFSA site, but there are sites out there who will charge you a fee, even if they do indeed submit it correctly. As long as you go to the official site, it is 100% free of charge.
- Don't worry if you don't get an instant response. Depending on whether you submit it online or mail it in, the DOE site gives an estimate of between 3-10 days to process it. The process can take time, so take a breath. You've started the momentum; it will continue on its own.
Remember that advocating for yourself and simply submitting the FAFSA is the first and most important step. Your academic endeavors will benefit from your efforts.
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