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Financial aid is a complicated process. You may or may not even be aware of or understand the lingo used. (Here are some terms to learn.) However, it’s still a vital component of applying to college for many families.

 

No matter where you are in the process, the FAFSA is an important aspect of financial aid. Read on to learn how you can save time while completing it.

 

 

1. Start Learning About the FAFSA Early

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Student Aid. This application is used by the federal government, colleges and universities, and some scholarship programs to determine students’ eligibility for federal and institutional aid. It plays a major role in determining how much financial aid you receive, although it’s only one part of the financial aid process.

 

Learn more about what the FAFSA is and does in FAFSA, CSS Profile, IDOC, Oh My! A Guide to Financial Aid.

 

Familiarize yourself with the process early, and start gathering information now. You’ll need financial documents, such as your parents’ tax returns, that demonstrate your family’s assets, income, and expenses. These documents will be necessary for filling out the FAFSA when the time comes.

 

 

2. Discuss Your Financial Aid with Your Parents

In order to start the financial aid process as early as possible, you’ll need to sit down with your parents to discuss both the college process in general and your financial needs and means as a family. You should have this conversation near the beginning of high school so you’re not rushing at the last minute.

 

Your parents will need to gather their own paperwork—tax returns and proof of income—and start looking at their finances and ability to meet their expected family contribution (EFA), the amount you’ll be expected to pay on top of grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study.

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3. Get an Idea of What Your Financial Aid Package Might Look Like

FAFSA determines government aid, which includes grants, loans, and work-study. Since it may be difficult to figure out exactly what the offer means when your letter comes, you should take a look at sample letters to familiarize yourself with how the letters are written and laid out. You can learn more about the packages in Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letters.

 

It’s also a good idea to use this EFC calculator to get an idea of how much your family will be expected to contribute to your college cost. (While the calculator is just an estimate, it can help inform you for planning purposes.)

 

 

4. Complete Your FAFSA Early

You need to complete your FAFSA by June 30th of the year you’ll be starting college. However, many states and colleges have earlier deadlines. The FAFSA becomes available in October of the previous year (so if you’re heading to college in September of 2019, you can start working on your FAFSA in October of 2018).

 

Start working on the paperwork sooner rather than later. That way, you can give it more attention and are less likely to produce errors. As mentioned earlier, you should also gather paperwork along the way so you’re prepared to complete it as soon as you can register for the FAFSA.

 

 

5. Review Your Application Carefully

Incorrect information will delay your award. Make sure you check your information several times and have your parents review the materials as well. You should also be sure to follow directions carefully. Learn more about this process and the need to be careful and efficient in Helping Your Financial Aid Office Help You.

 

 

The Takeaway

Filling out the FAFSA is a tedious but necessary process. These tips can help you save time and ensure that you fill it out correctly, avoiding any delays or issues with your award. Ultimately, the financial aid process is in place to help you pay for your education, so it’s important to stay on track and on top of everything you need to do for it. The FAFSA website also provides important information to help you through the process.

 

For more information, read:

 

The Ultimate Guide to Filling Out the FAFSA

Understanding College Costs: FAQs About Financial Aid in Practice

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine