The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid is an application that you fill out and submit online. The government and your student’s college(s) use the information to determine what your family’s financial aid award will be. The award is made up of one or more scholarships, grants, work-study and/or loans. The U.S. Department of Education administers the FAFSA and the 2011-2012 application becomes available at www.fafsa.ed.gov on January 1st.
Every family should file a FAFSA, regardless of family income. If you have a student who will be starting or continuing an undergraduate college degree this coming fall, or will be starting or continuing any type of graduate degree, make sure you get your FAFSA in on time. Many colleges and universities, state and federal governments as well as private scholarship sponsors require the FAFSA in order for you to qualify for aid. In fact, at some colleges, students will not be eligible to receive merit aid unless a FAFSA is submitted. Merit aid awards are not need-based (tied to family finances), but reward good students by helping reduce the costs of college.
It is important to get started early on the FAFSA application process. Here are three important steps to add to your New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Apply for a PIN (your electronic signature) for both you and your student (or retrieve an old one if you already filed a FAFSA. One parent and the student need to have a PIN to electronically sign the FAFSA.
2. Review the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to understand what information you will need to complete FAFSA; gather that information so you have it all in one place.
3. Use income estimates (for both you and your student) for 2010; do not wait until your 2010 tax return is prepared. Estimates are acceptable and you will need to update the FAFSA when your tax returns are prepared.
In addition to the first-come, first-served advantage, there are several other good reasons for starting early and staying on top of the FAFSA. First, beginning the FAFSA early in the season makes later updates easier to manage. The government has designed an easy to use website for this purpose. Second, information on the FAFSA can easily be transferred to the PROFILE, a second application for financial aid often used by private institutions.
And now—a bit of holiday inspiration to get you started!!
Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
‘Tis the season to be jolly!
Write your FAFSA,
Prep your PROFILE,
Have your taxes done,
Just as the Yule season passes,
Push ‘submit’ and pray for aid!
Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D. is an educational consultant and certified college admission advisor. Her goal is to help freshman applicants as well as transfer students and their families understand the admissions process, research college and career options, create a balanced college list and submit strong and cohesive applications. She is familiar with local high schools and has guided three daughters through the college admissions process in addition to more than 300 clients. Dr. LaScala is an active member of NACAC, WACAC, and HECA and earned a certification in College Admissions and Career Planning from University of California at Berkeley. Contact her at (925) 891-4491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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