The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is used to apply for financial aid for college—this includes grants, scholarships, loans, and more. Most families qualify for some form of financial aid, so you will likely benefit from submitting the application. Completing the form can be quite a process, however, and time is of the essence. Therefore, starting early can alleviate some of your frustration. It will also help to know what you can do to prepare. With this in mind, let’s look at three steps to get ready to fill out your FAFSA:
1. Know your deadlines
The FAFSA federal deadline for the 2016-2017 school year is June 30, 2017. Also, check deadlines both for your state financial aid programs and for the individual colleges to which you have applied. In this area, the qualified early birds catch the worms. Most schools and many states do not have unlimited funds to grant to incoming students, and aid can dwindle down as the start of classes approaches. Adjust your schedule so that you can submit your FAFSA as soon as possible to secure the best available financial aid that applies to you.
2. Gather your documents
There are many records that you, as a family, should have available as you fill out your FAFSA for the upcoming school year. These include driver’s license, income tax returns, current bank statements, and more.
These documents may take some time to locate, so carve out space in your calendar to search for them. For families who don’t think they’ll have their tax forms ready on time, you can use estimates from the previous year’s tax forms and later adjust the amounts on the FAFSA. This is one of the most popular and significant changes that has been recently made to the process.
Also, you will need to create a FSA ID, which is a username and password required for accessing your online information on the FAFSA. You can create an FSA ID at any time on the Federal Student Aid website.
3. Schedule time to fill out the FAFSA
Avoid procrastination when completing the actual form on the FAFSA website. Decide who will be a part of the process and plan plenty of time for your team to sit down and work on the form together. If adequately prepared, it shouldn’t take you all that long to enter all of the necessary information.
Completing the FAFSA can be a lengthy process—on top of applying to college in the first place—but it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Follow the steps above to get prepared. And don’t forget to start early! The faster you finish, the faster you can return to enjoying the last few months before college actually starts, possibly with some extra money in your account.
Mahlena-Rae Johnson is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.