College is expensive, but is increasingly becoming more accessible to everyone. With the help of alumni funds, generous donations, government aid, work-study, scholarships and loans, financial aid is available to the majority of students attending, or will be attending, an undergraduate university. Everyone should and can apply for financial aid. Filling out your financial aid form can save you up to tens of thousands of dollars each year.
Here are 8 steps to help you with your financial aid application.
Step 1: Know Your Forms
Before you begin your financial aid application journey, you should know which forms you are required to fill out. Become familiar with these forms as they will be the forms you need. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most popular application among college students. Federal Student Aid provides over $120 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study funds to more than 13 million students nationwide. In addition to the FAFSA, some universities may require students to fill out a separate form created by them. These additional financial aid forms may be required to account for extenuating circumstances that may not be taken into account by the FAFSA. They may also be required to provide a more accurate financial aid package for their students, such as a financial aid appeal form and a university financial aid form.
Step 2: Know Your Deadlines
Keep track of the due dates for your financial aid forms to avoid the risk of not being granted university and government aid. Add the dates to your Google Calendar, or phone calendar, and set a reminder for at least a month before they are due so you do not risk forgetting about the forms. If you tend to procrastinate, you may even want to set a few reminders for varying dates.
Never submit any financial forms late, as this may lead to you spending more money on your college tuition, which may lead to higher student loans and less savings. The more money you can get, the better. Don’t risk losing potential awards because you are late handing in forms. Late filing of the FAFSA may render you ineligible to receive state-funded aid and federal aid. If you are late submitting your university’s financial aid forms, you may become ineligible to receive university aid, including grants, or even worse, lose your financial aid eligibility.
Step 3: Set Up A Time to Complete the Form
No one enjoys the stress associated with waiting until the last minute to do something important. In this case, receiving up to tens of thousands of dollars in aid per year should rank high on your to-do list. In college, it is easy to lose track of important dates and assignment due dates. By putting the dates of your financial aid form in your calendar, you can easily plan ahead and keep track of the deadline. Financial aid forms usually take students about an hour long, but actual time will vary by student. You should allot enough time to complete the form. If you aren’t completely sure on how to fill out the necessary financial aid forms, reach out to your parents, guardians, and/or an administrator to help you complete the forms and get the aid you need.
FAFSA has moved up its submission timeframe for the 2017-2018 school year, so students can submit their application as early as October 1, 2016. So don’t wait until the last minute!
Step 4: Collect All Necessary Documents
FAFSA gives students 3 filing options. You can apply online, complete a PDF form and mail it, or request a paper form by calling the FAFSA office. Whichever option you choose, you need to have all necessary documents to complete and submit the form.
You will need to gather:
- Your Social Security Number;
- Your Alien Registration Number (if applicable);
- Most recent Federal Income Tax Returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned;
- Bank statements and records of Investments (if applicable);
- Business tax Income (if applicable);
- Records of Untaxed Income (if applicable); and/or
- Your parents’ information on the above categories, if you are a dependent student.
Step 5: Complete and Print a Copy of Your Form
Now that you have done everything to prepare to fill out the application, fill it out! It should take approximately one hour to complete. The FAFSA is sorted into five main sections:
- Student Information;
- Student Financial Information;
- Student Status;
- Parent Information (if required); and
- Student Household Information.
The FAFSA asks many important and necessary questions about your family, personal status, and financial status. Make sure that you have answered all questions accurately.
If you need to complete your university’s separate financial aid form, do so along with the FAFSA since some questions on both applications may overlap. By completing the two forms together, you can refer to the FAFSA for the necessary information.
Complete your forms and make a copy of both your FAFSA and your university’s financial aid form, if applicable, for your own record.
Step 6: Copy or Scan All Required Documents to Submit to Your University (if required)
If your university’s financial aid office requires you to submit certain forms, collect them, make copies, and then mail the copies to your university with your application. Never send original financial or personal documents in case they get lost.
Step 7: Review all Forms and Documents
If there is one thing you should never make a mistake on while you’re in college, it is your financial aid applications. Changing one digit or adding an extra digit can make a huge difference in aid, and checking the wrong box can result in you not being eligible for aid. Be sure to review your forms and documents carefully.
Step 8: Submit Your Application
Once you have reviewed your forms, they are ready for submission. Remember, the earlier the better!
Good luck with your next academic school year and please fill out your financial aid forms on time.