When choosing your financial aid sources from all the different options out there, the FAFSA is one of the key forms you definitely do not want to overlook. This form is required by most colleges and universities to be sent in before attendance, and it is meant to provide you with federal financial assistance towards your education.
After making the decision of which school you are going to attend, you should begin the financial aid process immediately. Since you will know the general cost for the school itself, you can make a rough estimate of the financial assistance needed in addition to any money you have already been saving. Here are some tips for properly applying the FAFSA document to your financial aid process:
- The earliest date to submit the FAFSA form is January 1st. Since financial aid is given out at a"first come first served" basis, do not hold off on submission. While filling out personal finance documents may not be how you want to spend your New Years, the earlier you submit your form, the better chance you have of receiving more aid.
- Some schools, especially private institutions, also require that you fill out a non-federal application for financial aid, like the CSS Profile. This form can be submitted as early as the fall, and requires a small fee. However, it will inform you of additional forms of aid eligible to you, like scholarships, non-federal loans and grants. Do not overlook filling out this form in the meantime, as it could surely reward you with useful information and additional financial assistance.
- Before even filling out the FAFSA, do a practice FAFSA online. This allows you to see what kinds of questions will be asked of you on the actual document, giving you a heads up on what information you will need to provide. Once you are aware of the personal information you will need, start getting it all together for when you fill out the real form. This will significantly cut down on the time you'll be spending on the actual FAFSA.
- You should calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) before finding out the exact amount on the FAFSA once it is returned to you. This will assist you in figuring out how much money you will be expected to contribute to the school of your choice, so you'll know right away how much aid you will need in addition to the savings you already have. FAFSA Calculators are available online to give you a good estimate of what your EFC will be.
- After applying for the FAFSA, continue applying for other forms of financial aid. Do not solely depend on federal aid; you may not end up getting as much as you thought you would, and you don't want to be stuck scrambling to find additional sources at the last minute. Apply for scholarships and grants, which reward you with money that you don't have to pay back. If you filled out the CSS Profile, your results should help you greatly with this part of the process.
- Once you get your FAFSA back, complete the Student Aid Report (SAR) of your results and make any necessary corrections. Remember that errors on the FAFSA can be pretty costly toward your financial aid, so make sure to double check everything!
- After figuring out the amount of financial aid you will be receiving in the form of different kinds of loans (be it federal or non-federal), you must sign the Master Promissory Note (MPN), in which the student promises to repay the loans.
- You may also want to look into hiring a financial aid consultant to help guide you through the steps of this process. These professionals will take you step-by-step through the financial aid sequence, providing you with valuable information, filling out necessary paperwork and helping you find the best financial aid offers available to you.