There were five years of my life where I performed an annual ritual: filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA for short).
The FAFSA is how you put your hat in the ring if you want the federal government to help you pay for college.
Filling out this form is about more than just getting help from the government, though. In many cases, the school you attend receives the information from your FAFSA, and uses it to make their own decisions about need-based financial aid at the school level.
So if you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you could be limiting what you get from the college of your choice, as well as ruling out help from the federal government.
Here’s what you need to know about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and how it can help pay for your education.
College Aid Available through the FAFSA
The aid you receive when you fill out the FAFSA comes in a variety of ways. Some students (and their parents) don’t fill out the FAFSA because they know they won’t qualify for grants.
However, there are other forms of aid, outside of grants, that are possible to get when you fill out a FAFSA. Some of the ways you can receive aid as a result of filling out the FAFSA include:
- Subsidized loans (government pays your interest while you are in school)
- Unsubsidized loans (which often have better terms than private loans)
- Work study (which guarantees you some sort of minimal on-campus job)
- Special loan opportunities for parents of dependent students
And, of course, your school might decide that you qualify for special assistance as a result of the information on your FAFSA.
If there are particular programs offered through your school of choice, the information on your FAFSA could qualify you for small scholarships, or special work programs. Even if you don’t think you’ll receive a grant, it’s worth filling out the FAFSA just so you have access to other resources and possibilities.
Watch Out for FAFSA Deadlines
One of the most important things to be aware of with the FAFSA is, that there are some forms of aid that are available only on a first-come, first-serve basis. This means that the sooner you get in your FAFSA, the better off you are.
Some individual schools require your information to be submitted by a specific date in order to qualify for scholarships. Your best choice is to complete your FAFSA and submit it as early as you can after January 1 every year.
You can submit your FAFSA with estimated information from the previous year, and then go back and change it later if you need to. However, by the end of January you should have most of your information available to you.
As a college student, I made it a point to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible. Even when I went to grad school I made sure to fill out the form.
This helped me receive subsidized student loans during grad school, and it also provided information to my grad school of choice, resulting in a need-based scholarship to go on top of the merit-based scholarship I received.
You have nothing to lose by filling out the FAFSA, and you have the potential to save thousands of dollars when you do fill it out.
What are some other tips about filing the FAFSA form? How did you go about getting aid for college expenses?