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What you need to know about FAFSA

By Leigh Goessl, DegreeMatch.com
Staff Writer

FAFSA is your first step towards planning your college finances.




Going to college can be the beginning to the career of your dreams, but unfortunately the road to a degree does not usually come cheap. While costs widely range depending on the college and whether in-state or out-of-state tuition applies, students can expect to spend, on average, several thousand dollars per academic year while pursuing their degree.

The good news is, despite the increased costs associated with higher education, there are ways to obtain financial assistance. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step you should take when planning your education expenses. Filing the FAFSA can unlock potential ways to help you fund college. This application is necessary to submit in order to be considered to receive federal and state grants, and some types of student loans.

In order to qualify for aid, there are certain criteria to be met according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Financial Aid :

• Demonstrate financial need, with the exception of certain loans

• Possess a high school diploma or GED, or have satisfactorily met other alternative requirements

• Have been accepted for enrollment in an eligible program

• Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen; register for selective service if required

• Possess a valid Social Security number

• Maintain satisfactory academic standing once you start college

What you need:

• A PIN number

The PIN is an electronic signature required for validation of your application. It is needed to continue working on a saved application, or updating an already filed one. You can also use your PIN to do annual application renewals. Applying for a PIN on the Education Department's official website is one of the first steps to take when preparing your FAFSA application.

• Email address

An email address will be your primary source of communication and correspondence when applying for financial assistance for college. Be sure and include a working email address from a reliable service as you set up your information.

• Recent tax forms

Whether or not you qualify for financial assistance will depend upon ability to pay. You'll need your most recently filed income tax return, and if still considered a dependent, information from your parents' tax forms.

• College code

Each college is assigned a unique code for financial aid and you can search this through the Federal Student Aid Office website. The school codes you include on your FAFSA will ensure your information is forwarded to the schools you are interested in attending. Students are permitted to add several school codes if you still undecided where to attend or are waiting on acceptance.

Important items to know:

• FAFSA is free to file and you can file from the official FAFSA website. Also, beware of scams reported by the Education Department.

• The official deadline to file the FAFSA is June 30 of each calendar year, however some colleges may require earlier deadlines. Early filing allows adequate time to process prior to the semester start, and ensure timely monetary awards are made prior to payment due dates. While schools reimburse tuition payments made prior to any award of financial aid, getting the application in early avoids any out-of-pocket payments.

• FAFSA must be renewed every year in order to be reconsidered for financial aid.

Tips for filing FAFSA:

• When filling out the FAFSA, save your application frequently. This way no information is accidentally lost.

• Proofread your information carefully to ensure there are no typos and all financial information has been entered correctly; a simple numerical typo can result in being declined for aid if it alters your financial status.

• Don't forget to sign your application using your PIN.

There are several choices you have to file the FAFSA. FAFSA on the web is generally processed faster, however you can use a paper form and mail in your FAFSA application as well.



Last edited: May 1, 2012, 9:27 pm EST
   
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