With the start of the New Year and new semester, many high school students are one step closer to graduation. While making final preparations for college, it is particularly important to plan for covering the cost of attendance. For any student in need of financial assistance, submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the place to start.
Applying for FAFSA is an important first step for those planning to attend college because it provides access to grants, work study programs, loan money, and scholarships. CollegeUp.org reports that almost $8 out of every $10 dollars alloted for educational assistance requires students complete a FAFSA. In fact, all schools require that this application be completed in order to access any financial assistance programs. The completion of FAFSA can even affect college admissions.
January 1st is the first day to submit an application. Because deadlines differ from school to school and aid money is limited, the Federal Student Aid website highly recommends students submit their applications as close as possible to January 1st. Gathering the necessary documents and preparing early will make submitting a FAFSA a cinch.
Aundrea’s Tips for Submitting a FAFSA
- Have your PIN before you start: Each student must create a PIN to electronically sign their FAFSA. In fact, the same PIN will be necessary to receive aid such as federal loans and grants. Apply for your PIN before starting a FAFSA to save time.
- Have the necessary tax information: Submitting a FAFSA requires students to provide their federal income tax information, or their parent’s tax information if they are filing as dependents. It may be advantageous for families to file their taxes early. However, FAFSA filers do not have to wait until their taxes are complete to submit their forms. Use the “Will File” option and estimate your income to get the process started.
- Know the schools you wish to attend: FAFSA information can be reported to 10 schools at a time. Some experts suggest listing schools in alphabetical order or even listing second-choice schools first as a trick to help students avoid smaller aid packages. Top choice, or first-listed schools may offer less aid based on your likelihood to attend, while smaller schools listed last may offer less money based on your unlikelihood to attend. Be methodical about your school selections.
- Submit your applications online: While aid applications can be submitted by mail, the online Federal Student Aid portal makes navigating the financial aid process easier than ever. To get started now click here.
The best way for students not yet in college to reduce their loan debt after school is to make a solid financial plan. Familiarizing yourself with the FAFSA process early, including knowing that students must submit applications every year of college, will help students access aid.
As I will discuss next week with a look at scholarships and grants, tapping every resource possible for educational funding is vitally important for covering the cost of college attendance. High costs of higher education remain a barrier for some students. However, with more resources than ever before, a little research and early preparation can make college a reality for everyone.
An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How do you plan to cover the cost of attendance?