FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an application that any student planning to attend a four-year university can fill out in order to be eligible for loans, grants, and federal work study programs.
This application is available to fill out as early as October 1st the year before you plan on attending college. It's important to fill it out as soon as possible because many states such as Kentucky, North Carolina, Illinois, and Vermont, and Washington treat student aid on a first come first serve basis.
Your FAFSA application can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to fill out. If you know what to expect and have all the information on hand you'll need ahead of time, it will be much easier and quicker to complete.
In this article, I have compiled important information such as documents you will need, tips for filling out your FAFSA application, and tools you can use to help you stay closer to taking 30 minutes on your application rather than 3 hours.
The Information you will Need
- Your Social Security Number
- Alien Registration Number (if you are not a US Citizen)
- Most recent tax returns, W2 forms, and other records of money earned
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
As I said previously, the FAFSA application can take a lot of time if you don’t have these documents at hand, so it’s important that you have them tracked down before you begin filling out your application.
Tools That Make the Process Easy
Next, here are some tools that you can use in order to make sure there is only smooth sailing when doing your FAFSA application.
- IRS Data Retrieval Tool: A lot of students can use this tool, which is a great way to save time when filling out the FAFSA. You can click the “Link to IRS” when prompted to fill in your tax information in the financial information section of the FAFSA, and your data will appear on the form.
- FAFSA4caster: This a tool that you can use in order to help your family gauge how much aid you will receive based on your tax information.
- College Goal Sunday: This is in-person advice from volunteer financial advisors held in dozens of states during the prime time of FAFSA. These advisors can give you tips, help you budget, and predict how much aid you will receive as well.
Secrets to FAFSA Success
Though these tools can be infinitely helpful, here are some additional tips to help you fill out your application and receive as much aid as possible.
- Apply to schools in which you are in the top 20% of their freshman class: Schools are most likely to give merit-based aid to the students who are in the top 20% of their applicants. You can find out if you fall in this category from the school’s Common Data Set or by viewing the entering class stats on College Factual.
- Develop a budget: Developing a budget with your family and deciding how much money you are willing to take out for loans will help you make a decision on which school to attend.
- Speak with a financial advisor: A financial advisor can help define what kind of loans you may be offered, and can give you guidance as to which school may be offering you the best deal. When I was applying for colleges, my family’s financial advisor was honest and open about what I was being offered and which route was the best one for me to take. It’s a great way to get a different perspective on the decision that doesn’t involve emotion, only the facts.
- Ask for more money, but do it right: Although you apply to gain admittance to a college, at the end of the day it’s the college that wants your business and your money. For this reason, it’s important that you give your business to the highest bidder. If you apply to 8-10 schools, you can use your acceptance letters and the money they offer you as a way to ask for more money from other schools. If a university really wants you there, they will make sure that they give you the best deal possible. There's more information on this tactic available in this free eBook.
Filling out your FAFSA application may seem like a daunting and scary task, but if you use these tips and tricks you should be able to complete it in no time.
- Learn about what types of financial aid may be available to you.
- Find out how you can maximize the aid you receive.