Applying for federal financial aid can be an overwhelming process if you don’t give yourself enough time to prepare and collect all the necessary information before the deadline. The Federal Student Aid office is a division of the US Department of Education. In order to apply, you need to fill out the Federal FAFSA form – the basic platform on which all financial aid is built. Typically, it’s due by the the end of June for that school year. State deadlines are normally much earlier than Federal deadlines so any additional state forms must be filed by your state’s due date. Additionally, colleges and universities have their own deadlines for scholarships and financial aid programs so be sure to check with them well in advance.
Collect all necessary paperwork and information, and apply for a FAFSA PIN number, required to digitally sign your online application and access your data. It takes at least one day to receive your PIN number so applying in advance is crucial. If you wait until a couple of days before the deadline, you’ll probably miss it. Keeping your PIN in a safe place is very important – that’s the number you’ll be using throughout your college years.
In order to accurately complete your FAFSA form, you’ll need to have access to your most recent year’s tax return. If you’re not sure about any categories or terms, contact your tax preparer or another professional for advice. Filling out incorrect information will require you to go back and fix your errors later since all data is verified. After you’ve submitted your FAFSA form, you should periodically check the status of your application through the FAFSA website, using your PIN number. This way you’ll know whether you’ve completed the form correctly and if there’s anything you need to add or change. It usually takes 1-2 weeks for your application to be processed; after that the financial aid department will help you review what your financial aid options are. These may include subsidized and unsubsidized loans, scholarships, grants, tuition discounts, and work-study.
New students often make the mistake of assuming that once their FAFSA application is approved, they’re set for the entire time they’ll be in college. As a matter of fact, you need to reapply every year if you wish to continue receiving financial aid. In addition to that, most schools also require students to re-qualify or reapply for programs unique to their school.