The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a document that colleges in the U.S. use to determine the amount of financial aid to award to their students. Financial aid has become a critical factor in making a college education possible for many people. Even if you don't think you'd be awarded financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA; it also offers opportunities for scholarships, grants and loans, which are important components in helping to pay for college.
1. Apply as early as possible, and definitely before the deadline (check deadlines with your potential schools). Some schools, and now at least seven states, award aid money on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds run out. You can estimate your income using your prior year's tax return and update the application once your current taxes are filed. File at www.fafsa.gov.
2. Gather necessary documents before starting the application. For the student and both parents, you'll need social security numbers, driver's license numbers, the most recent tax returns, asset records from banks and investment companies, and records of any untaxed income like child support. You'll also need the federal school codes for the schools you're applying to (www.ed.gov).
3. Fill out the form completely. Mistakes on the form can delay processing of the application, which can cause you to lose your place in line for award money.
4. Move money out of your children's bank and brokerage accounts into accounts under parental control so it's not calculated at the student's higher inclusion rate. IRAs and 401k accounts aren't included on the FAFSA.
5. Appeal a disappointing aid package. Aid packages are negotiable, so call the financial aid office to see if they can increase the award. It's not uncommon to share information from higher aid packages you've received from other schools.
For more FAFSA tips, please contact:
3801 S. Central Avenue
Cicero, IL 60804