College is expensive, making the topic of financial aid a very important one. The term itself makes most students panic. To help deflate this anxiety, we offer 5 helpful tips to get you started.
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- Complete Your FAFSA
Completing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the single most important step when applying for aid. This is the first thing a student should do if they want to be eligible for any scholarships, grants, or federal loans.
The FAFSA application is used to determine how much money you and your family can contribute toward your education. This is called Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Once the government has calculated your EFC, your college can prepare your financial aid package with an award that covers the gap between the cost of going to school and what your family can be expected to contribute.
How do you get started? It is easy! Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov
The FAFSA will only take about an hour to complete, and the online version will save your information as you go along so you don’t have to complete it all at once. It is even available in Spanish!
What information and documents are necessary to complete your FAFSA?
- Basic personal information about yourself
- Basic personal information about your parents (if you are dependent)
- Social security number
- Your parent’s social security number
- Driver’s license number (if you have one)
- Alien registration number (if not a US citizen)
- Information about your income
- Information about your family’s income
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
Filling out the FAFSA may sound difficult, but it’s not. However, if you are still intimidated, Fisher College offers a free guide on the topic: The First-Timer’s Guide to the FAFSA: How to Fill Out the FAFSA to Get the Most Money.
- Contact Your Financial Aid Counselor with Questions
If you are still having trouble completing your FAFSA, there are people that are more than willing to help you complete the application. The most eager to help will always be the Financial Aid staff at the college you are applying to. They will walk you through the process and make sure that you include all the necessary information.
- Do Not Be Afraid of Loans
Federal loans (like a Stafford loan) come from the government, and come with very reasonable interest rates (4.66% for the 2015 school year). Federal loans also allow you to wait to start paying them back until after you graduate.
Private loans, on the other hand, can be tricky. They often come with higher interest rates (so they’ll cost you more in the long run), and you have to start paying them off immediately. It’s almost always better to choose a Federal loan over a private loan.
- Check Your Financial Aid “Package”
Your financial aid award may include a mix of scholarships, grants, student loans, work-study opportunities, and more. This is your financial aid “package”.
After you have been accepted into a college, you will receive an award letter that lists all your financial aid options. You can accept or reject any item in the package. That means you can accept your scholarships and grants (aka “free” money) but still decide not to take out any loans (aka money you pay back with interest).
- Know the Deadlines!
Unfortunately, many students apply for financial aid later than they should. Remember, the longer you wait, the less money there is available for you. After the application deadline, financial aid is given out on a “first come, first serve” basis. That means there isn't always money left for late applicants. Completing your FAFSA on time (and correctly) is a necessity for every student seeking the most money possible.
The FAFSA becomes available on January 1st of your senior year of high school, so it’s a good idea to get started right away. Even though the federal deadline for the 2015 - 2016 school year is June 30th, colleges have different closing dates to submit by, so it’s important to check with each college you’re applying to. You should also inquire with each college about its specific definition of an “application deadline.” It could be the date the college receives your FAFSA, or the date that your FAFSA is processed.
The important thing to remember is financial aid is available – if you fill out the FAFSA.
Courtesy of VCHSAZ
For more helpful information, download our free guide, The First Timer’s Guide to the FAFSA: How to Fill Out the FAFSA to Get the Most Money.
What are some of your experiences dealing with the Financial Aid process?
Let us know in the comments below.