Applying for financial aid in the hopes of getting a grant or a loan to help pay for education has always been a tedious process. In order to apply, a student needs to assemble a ton of paperwork to file the application and chances they might even get a letter back asking for more information. Of course, this entails the student having to work through even more paperwork, which is challenging enough when in the midst of taking classes in the current semester.
The good news is this tedious hand written paperwork is no more. Now that the application has gone web based filing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has never been easier. With everything today going digital, FAFSA has jumped on the wagon and been strongly advising students to do their filing on the web.
Students can still file a paper FAFSA, but for several years now, colleges across the US have vigorously been encouraging their students to file the FAFSA on the web. In my experience working admissions and registrar, staff was usually advised by the financial aid department to encourage students to file on the web. Their reasoning is applications were typically processed three weeks quicker when submitted over the web; a significant benefit.
The FAFSA website is a well constructed site, but for a first time visitor, the web pages can feel a little overwhelming for a first time filer. A strong advantage is once the student gets the application in, filing for financial aid for subsequent academic years is a breeze.This is because the time involved is now significantly reduced because all of the student’s information is already plugged in, all they have to do is update any changes and add the current tax return information in.
Here are some good tips for completing your FAFSA on the web:
• Valid e-mail address
If the student doesn’t have one already, a reliable e-mail address that can easily be accessed should be established because e-mail correspondence is a student’s primary source of contact and information when filing the FAFSA on the web.
• Apply for a PIN
Securing a FAFSA PIN number is something that should be done advance in order to be ready when the time comes to file or if corrections need to be made after application has been filed. Students can obtain their PIN by reviewing the procedure on the official web page and entering the requested information.
• Organize paperwork
It is advisable to get paperwork gathered together ahead of time, and organize all relevant papers to keep nearby when the application is filled out. Students will need their social security number, tax return and for those 24 or under, will also be required to have parents’ tax information available because this information is necessary to input into the online FAFSA application.
• Be mindful of deadline dates
While the federal deadline is usually around June 30, many colleges require students to file much earlier to get the ball rolling. In my experience, many students are not aware of the fact filing for financial aid is a time consuming process. The application (especially if this is for the first time) is time consuming enough, but after the application is submitted, there are still several channels the paperwork will need to go through and this takes time.
It is not a good idea to cut filing the application too close to tuition payment dates because students may end up losing out on the classes they want if payments cannot be met because the financial aid application is pending.
• Find out school codes
Each college has an individual code assigned and these are necessary to have these to complete the application. If the school code(s) cannot be found on the FAFSA website, contact the university’s financial aid department to obtain the correct number.
Without a code, the application may be delayed being processed and forwarded to college of choice. Students who are still awaiting an answer on admissions application or are still in the process of making a final university choice, it is OK to put down a few colleges to have paperwork in place for the school ultimately chosen.
• Save completed work
Once a student gets going on the input process, it is a good idea to save application as it is worked through so no data is lost in the event of a crash or the site freezing up. Some of the questions are tedious and time consuming and it is important to make sure none of the hard work is lost in the filing process.
After the FAFSA application is finished, it is always advisable to carefully go through the final application page and review all the information entered to ensure accuracy. If something seems out of whack to the entities reviewing the application this could potentially delay any financial award given.
• Sign application electronically
After the application has been filed, students have to electronically sign their name to identify themselves as the applicant. This is a place where the aforementioned PIN is needed; students cannot submit an application without it.
As with any other sensitive information transmitted over the Internet, practice good safety habits. If a public computer is used, be sure when finished, the page is logged out and no personal information is left behind. Students filing on a private computer should make sure the virus, firewall and spyware applications are current and running.
There are also other sites which resemble FAFSA and claim to help students file, but the official site is where to go because unfortunately there are other sites which will charge or scam students. The official FAFSA application and instructions on how to file can be found at the Federal Financial Aid Office web page.
Filing theFAFSA on the web maybe a lengthy process for first time filers, but your subsequent academic years will be so much easier to file since the information is already in the system. Applying for grants and loans have never been easier!