Getting into college is hard enough, but the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) can feel like rocket science. Luckily, with some preparation and answers to your burning questions, you can tackle the FAFSA like a pro.
First off, what is the FAFSA? The FAFSA is an application all students must fill out to qualify for federal financial aid, but it can also be used to grant state and institution-specific aid. The federal government uses the information provided on your FAFSA to estimate how much money your family can contribute to your education. Once this is determined, the federal government, your state, and your institution can grant you aid by subtracting your expected family contribution (EFC) from the estimated cost of attendance at your university.
Aid that helps you attend college? Sounds awesome! Here’s how to get started:
1. Get Prepped!
Before you get started, you’ll need to gather some essentials. Here are some items you’ll want to keep handy:
- A FAFSA ID, which you may have if you’ve filled out the FAFSA before. Haven’t filled out the FAFSA before? Create an ID here.
- Social Security numbers of yourself and your parents or guardians
- Personal information such as legal names and birthdates for yourself and your parents or guardians
- Your most recent tax information, for yourself and your parents. Likely, you did not file taxes and will only have to provide your parents or guardians’ tax information. The FAFSA application will specify what calendar year the information should reflect.
- Financial records about your or your family’s current account balances, loans, or any other debts owed
2. Start Early
- Once you’re prepped, start and complete the application as soon as possible. Your institution likely has deadlines for when your FAFSA is due, and the sooner you finish your form, the more aid you may be eligible for.
3. Check Your Work
- Common issues can cause problems in your FAFSA process. Make sure to double-check all information for accuracy when you complete each section, and when you finish the application and are getting ready to submit. Here’s a list of common errors students make on the FAFSA.
4. Stay Aware
- Once you submit, the hard part is done! But it’s still important to keep an eye out for any important correspondence from the federal government about any additional information required and the status of your application. If your university has a financial aid portal, check it regularly to confirm your school has received your FAFSA application.
Pay for college the smart way! While funding your education with financial aid and federal loans is a great option, they don’t always cover the entire cost of attendance. Students and parents can borrow up to 100% of school-certified expenses with a USC Credit Union Collegiate Choice Loan.