Completing the FAFSA is not a lot of fun. Don’t let anyone say that it is. It is, however, a great task to check off your ‘to-do’ list in January. Remember: filing the form determines your eligibility for federal financial aid programs. There is no other way to become eligible for these programs.
Students can file for ALL federal financial aid programs including grants, subsidized loans, and work-study by completing the FAFSA. Students interested in state programs may also be able to link to their state’s financial aid website during the FAFSA completion process — this is true of NY state’s TAP program (state grant program).
Technologically speaking, the FAFSA website (www.fafsa.ed.gov) does a great job working families through the form. There are many parts to the process that have been streamlined to reduce redundancy. For example, a returning student does not have to re-enter basic unchanged information each year, instead the student can just update changed information. Additionally, the program works by family so parents of more than one college-bound student do not have to re-enter their data more than once.
Students and families can complete the 2009-2010 FAFSA starting on January 1st. You can complete the form even if you (and your parents) have not yet completed your 2008 tax returns. This is especially important for students who are currently applying for colleges. Completing the FAFSA and checking with each school’s website (financial aid AND admissions pages) will ensure that you complete all requirements for all potential financial aid at the school in a timely manner. The early filer often stands a better chance at scholarship and grant opportunities. Remember to file early and speak with the financial aid office to make sure all documentation has been received. In addition to the FAFSA, some schools require students to complete the CSS Profile or a school-based financial aid supplement. Also, depending on your personal and family circumstances (divorce or independent student status), you may have additional documents to file with the financial aid office. Again, school websites will have additional information on how to apply for need- and merit-based aid available through the school.
One note to remember–the first ‘F’ in FAFSA stands for free. It is free for families to file a FAFSA and you can do this at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Preparers can charge you to complete the FAFSA but you do not have to pay anyone to file a FAFSA.