It’s that time of year again—the time of year when high school seniors need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to be considered for financial aid to help pay for college. The FAFSA is available after January 1 each year for students to fill out. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you fill out (or consider filling out) the FAFSA form.
1. Colleges may require you to fill out FAFSA in order to receive aid or scholarships. Some schools offer merit-based and/or need-based scholarships, or scholarships that incorporate both need and merit. Filling out the FAFSA and sending the information to a college demonstrates you’re serious about considering that school, and it also helps the school find all the potential aid and scholarships you may qualify to receive, getting you the best financial aid package possible.
2. The earlier you submit FAFSA, the better. Many schools have priority dates for filing FAFSA (such as sometime in March through May of your senior year of high school). At many schools, financial aid packages are awarded in the order FAFSA applications are received. That means, there could be more aid available if you’re one of the first students to file FAFSA, than if you’re one of the last. So, don’t procrastinate and get the FAFSA in as soon as possible to maximize the amount of federal and other aid you can receive.
3. Remember to enter college codes before you file. You can send your FAFSA data to up to 10 colleges at a time. Before you submit the form, add the FAFSA school codes for the colleges you’re considering or have already applied to.
4. Gather all necessary documents before you begin. Before you start filling out the FAFSA form, collect all the documents you’ll need to enter information from. Those documents include your parents’ W2s, your parents’ most recent tax return, records of any untaxed income, mortgage information and current bank statements. Also have social security numbers available, and family and student asset information.
5. There’s an online tool to help import tax information. FAFSA has what’s called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This tool automatically transfers data from IRS tax returns to the FAFSA form. If you’re eligible to use this tool, it can help speed up the FAFSA filing process.
6. Errors may delay processing. Before you submit the FAFSA, double check the form to ensure it doesn’t have any errors in it—from a simply typo in a name to transposed numbers on social security numbers. And make sure if you used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that any information imported matches what’s on your parents’ copy of their tax returns. Any errors could delay processing, and delay the time when you get to learn the amount of your financial aid awards.
For more information, visit the FAFSA website.
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