By Dean Tsouvalas
The FAFSA is your first and most important step to getting the money you need to help you pay for college.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the application for U.S. government financial aid for college, including need-based Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), National SMART Grants, TEACH Grants and more.
The FAFSA’s purpose is to determine how much money you and your family can contribute to paying for your college education. Since most states, colleges and private sponsors of need-based scholarships want you to apply for federal financial aid first, the FAFSA also helps make you eligible for thousands of non-federal grants and scholarships.
Why You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA
Each year, the U.S. Department of Education provides over $100 billion in new education grants, student loans and work-study stipends to more than 14 million college and career school students. Filing a FAFSA gives you access to a number of these need-based grants and subsidized student loans.
Federal student aid also includes unsubsidized student loans, which are not income-restricted. That means even if your income is too high to qualify you for a subsidized loan, you may still be able to get an unsubsidized student loan.
A survey done by the National Postsecondary Student Aid revealed that almost half the students who are eligible for federal student aid do not even apply. There are many reasons for this, but the bottom line is: that’s a lot of money left on the table.
TIP: File your FAFSA as early as possible! Some federal financial aid is allotted on a first come, first served basis. File your FAFSA as soon after January 1 of each year as possible to ensure you are awarded the maximum amount of financial aid you are eligible for.
FAFSA for Federal and State Financial Aid
The same FAFSA you file to apply for federal financial aid is forwarded by the US Department of Education to each student’s state higher education assistance agency. State financial aid is most commonly received in the form of grants, scholarships and loans. Eligibility requirements, award amounts, repayment and interest terms and application deadlines for state financial aid varies from state to state.
Although you can file one FAFSA for both federal and state financial aid, be sure to know the deadline date for the state financial aid application since it varies according to state. Deadlines are firm so if you do not apply on time, you will not be eligible to receive state financial aid for the entire following academic year. Check your state’s higher education agency to find out what kind of grant programs you may be eligible for.
Pay attention to the deadlines! There are federal and state deadlines, and your colleges may also have a deadline. Visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm to check your state deadlines.
For more information please check out the Free StudentAdvisor Guide to FAFSA