In the United States, the largest provider of free money for students is the federal government itself. Every year, college students receive billions in grants and low cost loans, and it is that time to apply again.
To be considered for this free source of education funding, prospective students need to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA).
Once you’re at the government’s FAFSA website, the first step is to apply for a PIN. This PIN will serve as your identification and access code, so be sure to keep a good record of it in a safe and secure place. Depending on how busy the servers are, this can take a while, so don’t leave it to the last minute to get started!
Once you’ve received your PIN, the next step will be to gather up some records and research your family’s income for the prior year. For most students under the age of 24, financial need is still based on the parents’ earning levels, so you’ll either need their completed tax forms or at least a record of how much they made. Older and married students might not need to include information from their parents.
After all of the financial information has been added to the FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report or SAR. This SAR is used by colleges and scholarship programs across the country, as a quick reference to the student’s unment financial need.
The next important step is to get the FAFSA results and SAR to the college you intend to enroll in. While the absolute deadlines vary state by state and college by college, the best bet is to make sure you turn in all of the reports as soon as possible. Many schools disburse funds based on how early the application is completed, so if you don’t hurry there might just not be any money left over.
While the FAFSA may seem intimidating, it really is easier than ever to complete. So be sure to avoid those expensive services that claim to make things simpler for you – you can’t guarantee the quality of their work and there is absolutely no reason to spend money to receive free funding from the federal government.
Once you’ve got your SAR turned in to your college of choice, just sit back and relax! Or even better, start looking for other scholarships and grants that you can apply for!