If you’re a high school senior looking to go on to college, you are probably just starting to wait for responses from the schools you’ve applied to. While you wait, there is one important financial aid matter you need to take care of: filling out your FAFSA.
The FAFSA is short for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You will be filling out a FAFSA every year that you are in college in order to be eligible for federal financial aid to fund your education. The easiest way to fill out a FAFSA is online though you can also fill out a paper version and mail it in.
One of the most important things to note about applying for aid are deadlines. Some states have an “on-time” deadline that can range any time from February until the summer. But more importantly than your state deadline is your school’s deadline. The application must be submitted before your school’s deadline. If you’re just applying to schools and you don’t know which one you will be attending in the fall, you should find out the earliest deadline and submit the FAFSA before that deadline.
Once you know your deadlines, the only thing left to do is fill it out. How it works is you submit personal information along with you and your parents’ financial information like yearly earnings and they estimate what is called an EFC, or your Expected Family Contribution. If your EFC is low enough, you may qualify for need-based funding, like Pell Grants. In order to electronically sign your FAFSA, you need a PIN. That can take a few days to process, you and your parents should apply for one as soon as possible. You can save your PIN and use it every year to sign your FAFSA electronically as well as access your records.
The FAFSA, along with your EFC will be sent to the schools of your choosing and your school will contact you about how much financial aid they are offering you. This could be in the form of grants, which are basically free money, or loans. You can always reduce or cancel the amount of loans they offer you, and you can also usually take out more if you need to. As always, the earlier you fill out your FAFSA, the more likely you are to get grants and low interest loans.
The form is invaluable to students who need funding for college. You will NOT be considered for any funding until you have filled out your FAFSA and you must renew it every year. It’s tedious but it’s worth it in the long run so get acquainted with the FAFSA because it’ll be your friend for the next few years.