January 15th, 2010 Jamie
I’m not going to lie, I hate filling out the FAFSA (a.k.a. Free Application for Federal Student Aid). It feels a lot like just another tax form. BUT, higher education financial aid gurus (including my boss, nationally recognized college funding expert Deborah Fox) recommend that you do it anyway, so let me break it down for you:
Why Should I Apply for the FAFSA?
According to Ms. Fox, every student–even students who probably won’t qualify for need-based aid–should fill out the FAFSA. If you come from a family on the lower-end of the income scale, you could potentially be awarded federal, state, and school funding (including “free” money you don’t have to pay back, such as grants and scholarships).
If your family is in the mid- to higher-end income range, you should still file the FAFSA because it is the only way to qualify for federal student loans (which are much, much more consumer-friendly than private student loans, as they have lower interest rates and more protections for you, the borrower).
What Do I Need?
To apply for the FAFSA, you’ll need to provide a good deal of information, including your personal income for the past year as well as your parents’. Ms. Fox has outlined how you can prepare ahead on her Pay for College Blog in a really helpful post called How to Get a Jump on the FAFSA. Look it over (or just send the link to your parents and hope they do it for you!).
How Do I Get Started?
Start by visiting FAFSA.ed.gov, the official online application for federal student aid. Next year’s application (for the 2010-2011 school year) will be available on January 1st of 2010 (that’s not too far away!) and you’ll want to fill it out ASAP because a lot of the aid is awarded based on who applies for it first.
(Important: Do NOT visit other sites like FAFSA.com, which is a service that will charge you to file the FAFSA. The FAFSA is completely free, so don’t get swindled!)
I’m no expert, so if you’re just getting started with the FAFSA, I suggest you click over to these helpful posts at the Pay for College Blog, and be sure to link your parents in, too, so they can help you prepare:
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