Congratulations! This is a very exciting time in the life of a high school senior. At this point you have likely already taken the SATs and put your college applications in the mail but you’re probably wondering what’s next? The looming question every student will face at some point during the process is “how am I going to pay for school?” While some students are fortunate enough to have a means for paying for college with savings from their parents or part-time jobs, a majority of students will need to find additional resources to help pay for their undergraduate education. The good news is there are many resources that students can take advantage of to help pay for school.
One of the most important applications students who aspire to attend college should fill out is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid which is fondly referred to as the FAFSA form. Federal Student aid is financial assistance that’s available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. It helps to cover expenses such as tuition, books, room and board, just to name a few. Filling out this form correctly and on time (deadline is for most schools to ensure aid is March 1st) could be the difference in a student attending a 2-year community college versus a 4-year college or university. Most of you have probably heard about this form and already know its importance, but I would like to offer 5 tips to keep in mind in regards to the FAFSA:
Fill the application form out electronically-You have the option to fill out a paper version of the form to be mailed and to complete the form online. Completing the form online will allow your application to get processed quicker and provides an opportunity to make corrections if any need to be made in a timely fashion
Fill the form out even if you/your parents have not filed the previous year’s tax return-One mistake many students and their families make is waiting to complete the form until after taxes are filed. Did you know that you can use your W-2 forms to get certain financial information needed to complete the FAFSA form? Most families’ incomes do not change drastically from year to year (unless a qualifying event such as job-loss takes place). Even if you use last year’s numbers to fill out the form initially, you are given an opportunity to make corrections to your form after it has been processed. The sooner you get your form in the better
Know the federal school codes for colleges you are applying to-Before you even begin filling the FAFSA form out, you should already have the federal school code for all the colleges you are applying to. If you are not sure a federal code, be sure to call the prospective school’s financial aid office to get this information. Near the end of the application you have the opportunity to list up to ten schools who you want to receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). This will help the schools determine how much you and your family can afford to pay for college
Make sure you and your parent/guardian(s) apply for a federal PIN-This personal PIN is used each year to electronically apply for federal student aid and to access your Federal Student Aid records online. This PIN also serves as you and your parent/guardian(s) electronic signature and provides access to your personal records. Be sure to keep your PIN in a safe place because this same number will be used every year to complete the FAFSA form
Complete the form in its entirety-Review the form several times before you submit it for processing. Any incomplete applications will delay processing and depending on the schools you applied to could knock you down list for any grants or scholarships the school has available for eligible students who filled the FAFSA form out. While each school has a pool of money allotted, it is students who get their forms in early that benefit the most
If there is only one thing you remember from this message, let it be this: the FAFSA form should be filled out every year after January 1 as soon as humanly possible. The sooner you get it done, the better it will be for you in the long run.
Bridget Akintunde, MHA
Client Services Manager
First Generation College Bound Alumna