April 3, 2013

How to Apply for Financial Aid

Comment April 3, 2013 by Becky

If you (or your teenager) are planning to head to college next fall, you’ve probably already applied to colleges and maybe even started hearing back. The anticipation of your acceptance letter is absolutely the most torturous part of the process.

So, while you wait, make yourself useful by preparing to apply for financial assistance before the aid application deadlines arrive. When you’re ready to apply, here’s what you can expect:

First, you or your parents will want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form determines your financial need, or the difference between college tuition and your contribution. In order to complete it thoroughly (and you will want to complete this form very carefully), you will need a number of documents including your Social Security number and driver’s license number, your parent’s Social Security numbers, your tax return (and your parents’ return if applicable), W-2 and additional taxed and untaxed income records and bank statements and investment records. The FAFSA form is free to submit and will help determine your eligibility for government aid like a Pell Grant, Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan and work-study programs.

Next, you will want to see if your prospective school requires you to fill out a Financial Aid Profile. Some, but not all, schools obligate future students to complete their Financial Aid Profile form or the College Board’s CSS Profile in order to consider the student for other types of financial assistance available through the institution. As part of the profile, all state and many private schools require the FAFSA form with some additional supplements in order to gather all the information they need. Colleges have very strict deadlines for the completion and submittal of these profiles and they can vary depending on whether you are a new or returning student, so be sure to check with the College Board or with your school’s Financial Aid Office.

Filling out each of the necessary forms with the utmost care and without error will help you receive your package sooner. Mistakes can delay processing of your application for as much as a month. For questions about the forms, help is available toll free from the Federal Student Aid Information Center based in Washington, DC. So, refrain from making any of the “Most Common Errors,” like leaving a question blank, tax errors, social security number discrepancies, status errors, and the many others people make.

Knowing that college tuition rates are higher than ever before, being financially prepared is an applicant’s best defense. If college is still a few years down the pike, consider the benefits of a 529 Savings Plan. They are a tax free way to save for the cost of higher education. Plus, as a parent, they can create an opportunity to get your kids involved in saving for college. Sharing the responsibility with the future collegiate can help to create a realistic outlook and respect for the opportunity of further education.

If you’ve already gone through the Financial Aid process, what advice would you give new students?

Becky – eCommerce Manager

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