Very few things freak students out as much as financial aid woes. Some students just give up, thinking that they can't possibly qualify for grants and scholarships. They quickly turn to private lenders for student loans, not realizing the consequences of doing so.
Some students do persevere and submit their Free Application for Federal Student AID (better known as the FAFSA), but misconceptions and misunderstandings often lead to mistakes in the application. These mistakes are not cheap; they could easily lower the grant amount a student receives by thousands.
Here are some tips to help you file your FAFSA and get the best possible financial aid for your education.
Tips on Filing Your FAFSA
GATHER THE DOCUMENTS YOU'LL NEED BEFORE YOU START
The form requires a lot of information, ranging from your Social Security number to your parents' income information. It's better to have all the documents at hand before you start filling out the form. You don't want to be running around looking up documents when you're halfway through entering details. Some documents you'll likely need for the FAFSA form are your Social Security card, driver's license, bank statements, income tax returns, and other scholarship or financial aid documentation.
USE THE IRS DATA RETRIEVAL TOOL
Once your form is submitted, it will be verified and any errors found could negatively affect the total aid you'll receive. As such, it's important to make sure that all your information is correct before you submit anything. The online FAFSA form will allow you to use the IRS Data Retrieval tool that will automatically populate the relevant fields with data from your latest tax returns. This eliminates the possibility of errors and improves your chances of getting a better financial aid package.
USE THE ONLINE FORM FOR SUBMISSION
As mentioned earlier, the online form has the IRS Data Retrieval tool to minimize the potential for mistakes. Another benefit of the online form is that it has built-in edit checks that will make sure you catch errors more easily. If you print out the form and try to fill that out instead, you'll have to proofread more thoroughly.
PIN, SIGN, AND DATE
You'll have to sign the form with your PIN number to verify before you submit. If you're a dependent, your parents will need to have their own PINs and sign off the online form, too, before submission. You'll need the pin for not only electronically signing your FAFSA but also to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN) and Student Loan Entrance Counseling, both of which are required before any federal financial aid will be awarded or disbursed. After submitting online, print the signature page, sign it, date it, and then send to the FAFSA office via mail.
MAKE SURE TO SUBMIT YOUR FORM EARLY
Some students make the mistake of waiting for the deadline. Don't wait! Because the FAFSA budget is finite, the earlier you submit, the bigger the likelihood that you'll get a substantial aid package. Of course, remember to take note of the deadlines imposed by the universities you're applying to, as well.
KEEP YOUR PERTINENT DETAILS IN A FOLDER FOR NEXT YEAR
One thing most students overlook is the fact that the FAFSA application is not a one-time thing. You will have to reapply each year, and circumstances in your family financial situation can affect the aid you receive. Keep the important details for your application in a folder so you can easily retrieve the data for next year's FAFSA form.