Applying for Student Aid: Taking the Fear out of FAFSA

fear out of fafsaWith FAFSA deadlines right around the corner first time applicants and their parents are becomingly increasingly more anxious. Today’s post is dedicated to helping you overcomb those fears about applying for student aid. For more information on the FAFSA, step-by-step instructions to filling out the form and other tips please read our Free FAFSA Guide.

For many families with high school seniors, February is dedicated to tackling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“A lot of people are afraid of it,” says Betty Williams, director of financial aid at Coker College in Hartsville, SC. “But it’s not hard.”

Here’s how to take the fear out of FAFSA.

First, take careful note of requirements and deadlines. “Know the aid application requirements for each of the schools to which you’re applying,” advises Helen Nunn, director of financial aid at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa.“Some will only require the FAFSA, but may have an early (February 1 or 15) deadline. Others will require the CSS PROFILE or their own institutional aid application. Some will require financial data from the non-custodial parent, in the case of divorce. So you need to know what you’ll have to provide.”

“Schools will publish their deadlines, as will state grant programs,” says Nunn. “Find the earliest deadline imposed by any of your schools and don’t miss it!”

You can lose money by putting off your application, so don’t procrastinate.

“Don’t wait until you’ve been admitted to a college,” says Pat Watkins, director of financial aid at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Some applicants are concerned that their admission to a college may be jeopardized if they apply for financial aid. In many instances this is not the case. Admission to the college is made regardless of ability to pay. List all of the colleges you are considering on your FAFSA. Some funds are limited. By waiting, you may miss out on some scholarships.”

Get your paperwork ready, even if you don’t yet have your 2010 tax information.

“You’ll need your social security number, driver’s license, alien registration card (if you are not a U.S. citizen), and financial documents, including tax information, current bank statements, business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, and stock, bond and other investment records,” Mary Ellen Duffy, director of financial aid at Albright College in Reading, Pa. (Help potential students learn about Albright so write a review of Albright College.)

You can estimate your tax information if you don’t yet have it, says Nunn. “You do not need to wait to have a completed 2010 1040/A/EZ to apply. However, you need to give the best estimate you possibly can, as your financial aid will be based on these numbers and be subject to verification later,” she says. “Locate your federal tax forms – student’s and parents’. Put them together with your end-of-year 2010 paystubs. Use the two together to create your estimate.”  You can correct and update the information later.

Once you’ve got it filled out, don’t forget to sign.

“The most common FAFSA error is missing signatures,” says Williams. “The form will be rejected and that delays processing.”  If you’re completing your FAFSA online, don’t forget to sign it with your PIN or by printing out the pages and mailing them in.

Keep good records during the whole process. “Keep copies of everything you submit and track when you complete each item” recommends Nunn. “Put everything in a file for easy reference and retrieval.”

Free FAFSA Guide

Worried about making a mistake on your student aid application?

Download our free StudentAdvisor FAFSA Guide.

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