College Advice Blog

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Dec 1, 2010

10 Tips for Filling Out your FAFSA

 
Applying for federal financial aid for college can be a long, uncomfortable process—especially if you are doing it for the first time. Find out all you can about the application process beforehand so that you can be prepared, get it done right the first time, and get your financial aid as soon as possible. To make sure filling out your FAFSA goes as quickly and as smoothly as possible, here are some things to keep in mind.

1)      Talk to a financial aid counselor. Most high schools have a guidance counselor who you can turn to for help and advice when applying for federal financial aid. If you don’t have a high school counselor who can help, talk to a counselor in the financial aid department of the school you are applying for.

2)      Include your parents. Inevitably, you will have to talk to your parents about financial aid because they have tax documents you will need when you fill out your form. Make sure they are involved and can support you as needed.

3)      Plan Ahead. Your financial aid amount depends on your (or your parents’) earnings for the previous year. If you want to be removed as a dependent from your parent’s tax return, let them know before they file. In many cases, being removed as a dependent from your parents’ tax return can give you a better chance at getting aid.

4)      Have all documents ready. Before you start to fill out the form, look at it and make sure you have all the information they ask for ahead of time. When you have all the right information up front, filling out the form will be quick and easy.

5)      Practice first. Make a copy of the FAFSA form and fill it out first. That way, if you make mistakes, you can easily correct them when you fill out the actual form and you won’t have to start all over again. 

6)      Fill it out online. The FAFSA is available online and the government will keep your previous year’s applications in their database. If you fill out your FAFSA online this year, you’ll only have to update it next year instead of filling out a whole new form.

7)      Keep a copy. If you fill out a paper version, make a photocopy. Print your final version, if applying online. When talking to financial aid departments at your school, having a copy handy can be very helpful.

8)      Don’t leave blanks. If you don’t have the information you need right away, get it, and make sure you fill in all information before you send in your application. The application review process is very detailed. If you leave questions blank, your financial aid will be delayed until the right information is given.

9)      Be accurate. As before, the financial aid approval process is very detailed. If you have provided inaccurate information or have guessed, those inaccuracies can delay the approval process and—possibly—leave you without any financial aid.

10)  Do it now. You can start applying for federal financial aid on January 1st. The earlier you start the application process, the quicker you will have a decision. Also, keep in mind that federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. If you wait until September to fill out your application, your award may be lower than it could have been, or may not exist at all.

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About The Author: 
Gunter Jameson writes about several topics including minimalism, travel, and pellgrants.
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