Thursday, January 15, 2009

Paying for College: FAFSA Fundamentals

You've survived your college applications. You've filled in countless online forms, written and re-written enough essays and supplement essays to satisfy the Reflective Essay Gods for a lifetime, and managed to get your teacher recommendations in on time without being arrested for stalking or harassment. You're done! Now all you need to do is sit back and wait for those acceptance letters. Right?

Wrong! You've set your college dreams in motion, but now you need to figure out how to pay for them once they start to come true. Step 1: The FAFSA.

Unless you are independently wealthy and have no need for financial assistance of any kind to complete studies at the college of your choice, you and your family should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Following are some key FAFSA facts that will help you navigate the application process and get the most financial aid you are entitled to. 

* Important! You may be eligible to receive financial aid regardless of whether you're planning to attend a 4-year college, 2-year college, or vocational school. If you are attending an accredited school of any kind, complete the FAFSA to learn your eligibility!

1) The FAFSA is a document outlining your family's financial status. It is used by the federal and state governments to determine how much and what types of financial aid you qualify for. 

2) The FAFSA may be completed online. Visit, where you will find not on the FAFSA document, but loads of information on how to complete it accurately as well as answers to FAQs.

3) Be sure to go to the official FAFSA site and not one of the many .com sites that pop up in Internet searches.  These sites are for-profit and may charge fees to help you complete the FAFSA. The FAFSA is free and is lengthy but not difficult to complete. 

4) If you do need help completing the FAFSA, this is also free. Call 1-800-4-FED-AID with your questions.  Also check out College Goal Sunday, free nationwide events that provide expert advice on filling out the FAFSA. 

5) The FAFSA becomes available on January 1 each year. Start completing the application as soon as possible. The deadline for submission varies from state to state. Find your state's deadline here.  It's crucial not to wait until the last minute to complete your FAFSA; in order to apply, you must first get a personal PIN number, which can take time to receive. FAFSA suggests you apply for the PIN early in January of senior year. 

6) Really want to get a head start on the process? With FAFSA4Caster you can begin filling in your FAFSA as early as middle school! This will give you an early estimate of your eligibility for federal financial aid as well as increase your knowledge about the financial aid process. When you're ready to submit the FAFSA in January of your senior year, just update your financial information and hit send! Completing the FAFSA4Caster can significantly reduce the stress and paperwork that will come around in senior year. 

7) After you submit your FAFSA, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) indicating how much your family will expected to contribute toward the cost of your education and the amount of grants and loans for which you will be eligible. Remember, you are not obligated to accept any loans based on what is presented in your SAR. The student loans process is a separate procedure entirely. You may take out all, part or none of the loans for which you qualify.

What's next? It's time to move on to the next step in the financial aid process: Applying for loans and scholarships. 


College Search said...

College is difficult to pay for, but financial aid is out there to help! You just need to know where to find it!

Mount Union said...

This is a very good read! This will come in very useful because I am in the process of sending my son to college next year. Great blog!