October is the first full month of fall, which brings cooler temperatures, pumpkin spice, changing leaves, and the start of FAFSA season. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, open date was October 1, the first date users could file an application.
What if you are not planning to apply for student loans? Fill out the FAFSA anyway! The FAFSA is a gateway to be eligible for most scholarships and grants, even those which are not need-based. Almost all require the FAFSA, so you should still plan to complete it.
The FAFSA appears long but the document is ten pages including instructions and explanations. With a little preparation you can reduce the burden of filing these important forms. Here are some suggestions to make the process easier and less stressful.
- Get ready. Set aside a block of time to complete the form. Putting time on the calendar is like making a commitment to yourself to dedicate that time for the FAFSA. I suggest that students and parents take this time together. Plan for a few hours, especially if it is your first time completing the form. First time students should log into the FAFSA website to get an ID and explore the information found at StudentAid.gov.
- Get set. The form requires documenting several types of identification, financial information for both students and families, and college information. Prior to filling out the form, gather this information so you can avoid the frustration of having to find it while working on the document. You will need the following, if applicable:
- Social Security Number for parents and student (or permanent resident number)
- Date of birth and school information of parents and student
- Driver’s license
- Alien Registration or Permanent Resident Card (if not a US citizen)
- W-2 tax forms and other records of money earned
- Copies of federal tax forms from 2017 from students and parents, if available
- Foreign tax return (if any)
- Untaxed income records (such as child support received and untaxed pensions)
- Bank statements for checking, savings and other investment accounts owned by the student and parents
- Other investment records, including 529 plans or other prepaid college plans
- List of colleges and other schools the student wishes to apply to. This list can be changed later.
- Go! Don’t wait. Many grants have limited funding, and may not be available to those who delay. What advice do the experts give for conquering the FAFSA? Julie Yang, M. Ed., is the College and Career Coordinator at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, Md. with excellent advice: “I encourage parent(s) and student do the FAFSA together. Take it as an opportunity to open conversations on the importance of financial planning and make it a shared experience of planning for the future,” she suggests. Talk about future plans, aspirations, and goals. When you are done, you can celebrate getting one step closer to reaching those goals!