If your son or daughter is college-bound, you are probably examining your financial options. With the cost of higher education increasing every year, it has never been more important for parents and students to pursue every funding possibility.
Good news: there is plenty of help available, from merit scholarships and need-based institutional grants to student loans (both government-sponsored and private). If you have not completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, you may be missing out on an important source of funding for college. Follow our recommendations below, and view the FAFSA website FAQ’s, and you’ll be on your way.
Many parents do not submit the FAFSA because they assume their income is too high and they will not qualify for financial aid, but FAFSA aid is often available to those with middle class and upper middle class incomes. Others worry that their student’s grades are not good enough, but this is a separate issue. Some schools offer merit-based aid, which does not require the FAFSA, but for those offering need-based aid, families must submit the FAFSA for consideration.
The FAFSA form becomes available on October 1st, and parents and students should plan on completing and submitting it as soon as they are able. Families should be aware of student aid deadlines. There is a federal deadline, but states and individual colleges and universities have their own deadlines occurring typically from March through May. Some schools distribute aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is important to apply as early as possible. Be sure to check the Financial Aid Office website for dates and details specific to your student’s school.
Submission of the FAFSA is often required to be eligible for other forms of student aid. For instance, many private scholarships require students to state whether or not they are eligible for Pell Grants, and the FAFSA application is used to determine eligibility for that government aid program.
The FAFSA form can look intimidating, but reading through the entire application first will make filing a lot easier. Gathering the income documents and other information you will need ahead of time will make the filing process proceed with relative speed. If you have not yet filed your taxes, you can use your previous year’s return along with estimates for the current year to complete the FAFSA and then update the FAFSA if needed after you file your return.
Students who receive financial aid must file a new FAFSA application every school year. Parents and students should set a reminder and be sure to complete a new application on time. Again, check the school’s Financial Aid Office web page to determine financial aid renewal deadlines.
Effective for the 2014-15 school year, the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid form will collect income and other information from a dependent student’s legal parents regardless of parents’ marital status or gender. The new process recognizes single parent families and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parent couples as long as they reside in the same home. Click here for more details.
The FAFSA application process is not difficult, but it is important to understand the requirements before you get started. Many of the most popular, and most valuable, student aid programs are time-sensitive, so the sooner you get started the easier it will be to control your college costs.
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