Familiarize Yourself with the FAFSA Now

Don’t Wait Until January to Learn About Financial Aid

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Does it feel like activities “pile on” during this time of year? There is so much to do that it seems practically impossible to squeeze in even one more thing. Unfortunately, parents of high school seniors who will be attending college in September 2016 must still steel themselves to deal with the looming FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This information helps to determine the amount of financial aid your child will be eligible to receive from federal, state, and institutional sources.

The application comes online January 1, 2016 and you do technically have until June 30 to get it completed. What many new applicants don’t realize, however, is that there are some state and school deadlines that can be as early as February! They sit down in January and are startled to see the short amount of time they have. Because they have done no advance preparation, they are caught short and might be more prone to making errors which could cost them money. It’s best to find a quiet moment where you can learn about what you are going to be facing. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Get in the Right Mindset: First, you will need to face the fact that this is something you will need to do for the next four years. It can sometimes feel like as much fun as filing tax returns, but at least there is a tangible financial reward for your child at the end. Some parents start out with a negative mindset that it is too much work, or that it’s not worth the effort because they already “know” that their student won’t qualify for financial aid. This leads to sloppy work, and could in fact become a self-fulfilling prophecy because they could overlook something which might have made a difference in their child’s financial aid package.
  • Get a Feel for the Form: You can look at the 2015-16 FAFSA and even take a sneak preview at a draft version of the 2016-17 FAFSA. While there might be a few minor tweaks in the final version, this will still give you a pretty good idea of the information you will need to provide. Start thinking about what you can do now to give yourself a head start on compiling this data.
  • Do Some Work in December: Get the all-important FSA ID out of the way now. This is the log-in information that will allow you to access and file the form in January. Then start gathering your documentation now so you won’t have to be frantically searching for it or making last-minute calls in January. You can even get an early estimate of your aid using the FAFSA4Caster.
  • Think About Your Questions: Do you really want to be searching for information and trying to find answers at the same time as everybody else, or do you want to get all your ducks in a row now? Wait until the last minute and chances are that it will be difficult to easily find answers. Use the Department of Education’s resources or find a professional college financial aid advisor who can answer your questions and you will be at the front of the pack.

Another piece of news is that the timeframe is changing and there will be another FAFSA period beginning October 1, 2016 for the 2017-18 year. Learn how to complete the January FAFSA now and you’ll be really prepared when it comes to the October application!