The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step when applying for a college grant or loan. If you do not file this application, you’ll miss out on the chance to receive potential assistance in funding your education.
Traditionally this application was tedious at best with having to fill out a slew of paperwork which was very time consuming. Fortunately for today’s college students, there is the opportunity to file this important application over the web through http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
This format is quick, easy and has a much faster response timeframe. In my experience working admissions, if you file your FAFSA application online instead of the traditional paper format, it shortens your feedback time by approximately three weeks, a significant amount of time when you are anxious to begin your financial planning for your education and you have many deadlines to meet.
Before you beginning filling out the application, you’ll have to collect a lot of paperwork in order to file a complete submission. It’s a good idea to complete your application as thoroughly as possible because if you don’t the odds are good you’ll receive a follow up letter requesting more information; this will delay the processing of your FAFSA.
The first time you file your FAFSA may be lengthy and a little overwhelming. A significant benefit of FAFSA on the web is any information you enter is retained for your next academic year. This is a terrific advantage because all you have to do is update any personal information, current tax return data and you’re good to go. Filing subsequent FAFSA applications are a snap in compared to the paper applications of yesteryear.
As you prepare to file your FAFSA it’s a good idea to get organized and plan your method of attack when tackling this task. There are three stages of getting your FAFSA together: preparation, planning and filing.
To prepare for filing your FAFSA, you have to have a valid e-mail address which is a reliable service. Most of your correspondence with applying for financial aid will go through e-mail contact and your address will serve as your primary source of contact for any communication.
To file online you will also be required to apply for a PIN number to gain access to your application. This is a step you’ll want to take care of ahead of time so you able to file when you complete your application. The PIN allows you access to your incomplete or complete application; sometimes you may need to re-access a finished application in order to make corrections. You can apply for a PIN at http://www.pin.ed.gov/PINWebApp/appinstr.jsp.
Additionally, each college is assigned a unique code for financial aid and you’ll need to know the number in order to file your application; this is so the information can be forwarded to your school(s) of choice. Most of the time you can discover the code by looking it up through the FAFSA website, but if you have difficulty locating the correct code, you can call your college’s financial aid department and request the assigned code number.
Even if you haven’t yet narrowed down your choice of universities or are awaiting an admissions approval, it’s OK to put down several college codes when you file your FAFSA. This will benefit you in the long run because all of your paperwork will be in order to the school you ultimately end up going to.
Planning for the filing of your FAFSA takes a bit of organization. In order to file you’ll need to have access to specific financial information at your fingertips and if you gather the pertinent papers ahead of time, this saves time on the filing process. You’ll need the most recent tax return, your social security number and if you are under the age of 24, there is a requirement to also include your parents’ relevant tax information.
As a part of planning, it’s a good idea to find out what the specific deadline dates are for filing. The federal deadline for FAFSA is typically around June 30, but many colleges require you file your application much sooner. My college’s suggested deadline was March 1st to ensure any potential financial aid award was received in a timely fashion. It’s always a good idea to check with your school to see when their preferred filing date is.
Filing for financial aid can be a very time consuming process. After your application is filed the application goes through several channels which can take a significant amount of time. If you wait too long, you run the risk of not receiving your grant or loan in time for the date tuition is due and this could result in your missing out on the classes you want if your application is still in pending status. Many colleges will request out of pocket payment and will reimburse you if your application is approved for an award.
The final tips have to do with the actual filing of your application. As you input your information, make sure you save your work frequently. There is a “save” option right on the application itself and it’s a good idea to save at the bottom of each page, or even more frequently. Occasionally websites “time out” or you could potentially lose your Internet connection and this would cause you to lose all the information you’ve already entered. Many of the questions are detailed and if you save frequently, you’ll ensure none of your work is lost before you’ve filed your FAFSA.
After you’ve completed your application, you should proof-read your work. When you’ve answered all the questions, FAFSA gives an option to look at the way your application will look. It’s advisable to carefully read through the final application before submission to make sure all of your data is accurate and there are no typos, especially in the financial areas. When your application is under review, if something looks amiss, this could delay any potential award.
When you file a FAFSA online, you have to sign your completed application with an electronic signature. This is another time your PIN number will be necessary to enter before you’ll be allowed to submit your application.
Another important tip is to practice good Internet security practices. Any information you transmit over the Internet has a potential of being compromised. If you need to use a public computer to file, check to make sure you’ve logged out before leaving the computer and make sure your pages are closed. If you’re filing from a home or someone else’s personal computer, you want to file from a computer where the firewall is enabled and current virus and spyware applications are running. There are a few other sites which resemble the FAFSA website with claims to assist you in filing, but you may compromise your information if you aren’t filing from the official site.
There are a few sites which charge you money, but filing the FAFSA is a free process and it doesn’t cost you a cent. You can find the official FAFSA webpage and instructions on how to file your application at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
The first time you file your FAFSA online can be a little rough, but chances are you’ll love the new format once you get the hang of it. Filing electronically truly does save you a lot of time. If you use the above preparation, planning and filing tips, you’ll discover filing your FAFSA application has never been easier.