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The first step for nearly all students applying for financial aid is completing the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s the federal government’s application for federal financial aid, and it is also used by state governments and many colleges and universities as they determine how much money to give you to help pay for college.
More than $240 billion is available to help students apply to college, but most of that is only available if you complete the FAFSA.
While the FAFSA can seem excruciatingly frustrating, time-consuming, and confusing, now’s the time to complete it if you want to find out your financial aid package before accepting a college’s offer of attendance.
If you’re wondering whether you’re eligible for financial aid, rest assured that nearly every student, regardless of your income, is eligible for some form of aid, including low-interest Federal Stafford and/or parent PLUS loans.
However, there are a few guidelines. You must:
While the FAFSA is the main application for financial aid, many schools have their own supplemental applications. It’s fairly similar to applying to college, in that you complete the Common Application and write college-specific supplemental essays.
Thus, make sure you check whether there are supplemental forms you need to complete to apply for institutional financial aid and when those forms need to be completed. Colleges’ financial aid deadlines usually follow application deadlines by about a month. For example, at Harvard, applications are due January 1, initial components of your financial aid application are due February 1, and the remaining financial aid materials are due March 1. Note: In case you’re wondering why there are two deadlines for financial aid information, many people do not receive their 2012 tax and income documentation until mid-February, so colleges push back the deadline for those pieces of material.
Lastly, it’s important to know that federal financial aid is limited and is dispersed on a first-come, first-served basis, so filing as close as possible to January 1 is recommended.
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