Every fall, thousands of students of all ages go back to school. Whether you’re a high school graduate just beginning college or a returning student, you may be one of the 22 million Americans completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Administered by the Office of Federal Student Aid, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education, the FAFSA is the required first step in applying for and receiving federal student aid to help cover the costs associated with higher education. Federal Student Aid distributes over more than $150 billion in work-study funds, grants, and loans annually, but you first have to complete and file a FAFSA in order to be eligible for funds.
For the 2015-2016 year, the online deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30, 2016 but any corrections or updates must be submitted by September 17, 2016. It’s never too early to get a headstart on FAFSA filing, because the application can be notoriously confusing to navigate. Luckily, we’ve compiled five FAFSA tips and tricks to keep in mind as you start work on your application.
1. File early
Many colleges and universities award their financial aid packages on a rolling basis, so it is to your advantage to submit your FAFSA as soon as you have the required information.
2. Apply regardless
Even if you think you aren’t eligible for financial aid or unsure about your financial circumstances, it’s free so apply anyway! You never know what package your school may or may not award you, and it’s worthy applying regardless to find out.
3. Gather all the paperwork
The FAFSA application will require various types of documentation, including your bank statements, driver’s license, and social security card. Make sure you gather all the necessary documents and if you’re a dependent, you’ll need documents from your legal guardians as well.
4. Include the zeroes
For any sections of the FAFSA that do not apply to you, make sure you put a zero instead of leaving the section blank, which could cause unnecessary delays in the processing.
5. Explain special circumstances
The FAFSA is comprehensive, but there’s no place to explain special family, financial, or individual circumstances. If you are concerned about any extenuating circumstance affecting your application, make sure you contact your college or university with a supplementary letter explaining your unique circumstance.
Need additional help with your FAFSA? Consider taking a FAFSA training course available on OpenSesame.com.