FAFSA-ApplicationIf you’re headed to college, you’ve probably heard of the FAFSA application. This one document can determine whether you attend college or not, but how can this one document control your academic destiny? Most students are confused by the FAFSA, with no understanding of how to fill it out or even what it is. You can get a major advantage in the college race by learning the basics of the FAFSA application.

FAFSA Basics

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is used by American students to obtain financial aid for college. The FAFSA is administered by the federal government, but many state programs also use the document. To be eligible for most FAFSA programs, students must have a valid Social Security number, a high school diploma and a criminal record free of drug charges. Furthermore, male students must be registered for the Selective Service System. You can fill out the FAFSA starting January 1 every year, and the sooner you submit it, the better your chances of receiving aid. If you’re off to a late start this year, don’t worry; you must refile your FAFSA every year, meaning you may get even more aid next year.

What Do You Need to Fill out the FAFSA?

The first step to filling out the FAFSA is determining if you’re a dependent student. If you live at home, are not married, are not a veteran and are under 24, you are most likely a dependent student and will use your parents’ income to fill out the FAFSA. You will need access to your parents’ most recent tax income and information about any siblings who are currently in college. You may want to work with your parents while completing the FAFSA application. If you don’t have access to your parents’ information, talk to your school for help. Although the FAFSA is a government document, it’s not intended to make your life harder. You can get exceptions to the requirements if you qualify.

What Exactly Does a FAFSA Get You?

A completed FAFSA is your potential ticket to mountains of financial aid; everything from government loans to campus jobs to private scholarships are based off of this one document. The FAFSA is considered the best way to determine your level of financial need, which is calculated with your estimated family contribution. If your family can’t offer you much money for your college, you can receive a Pell Grant, worth up to $5,730 per year, and you can also receive work-study funds and low-interest loans. Employers like students with work-study awards because the government will pay part of your salary; you’ll be able to get on-campus jobs easily with this financial aid award. Even if your estimated family contribution is high, you’re still eligible for aid.  Almost every student who fills out the FAFSA qualifies for government loans.

Completing the FAFSA is a complex process, and schools know this. Talk to your high school counselor or college financial aid office if you need help; just make sure you complete your FAFSA application as soon as possible so you get all of the aid you deserve.

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