FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student AID, is a free form students fill out detailing their financial situation in order to request monetary aid from the government for their higher tuition expenses. Based on the information provided, the Office of Federal Student Aid and the U.S. Department of Education determine how much federal funding you are eligible to receive.

Examples of financial aid are the Pell Grant, Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan, work-study, and state and school student assistance programs.

The process begins by creating your PIN, which serves as your electronic signature and gives you access to your personal records and information. Your PIN is very important, as the official FAFSA site advises students not to give their PIN away to anyone since this PIN is what will be used each year you apply for financial aid.

Other items you’ll want to have with you when you are filling out the form include:

▪   Income tax return or well-estimated tax information

▪   W-2 forms and other records of income earned

▪   Records of untag income, such as unemployment benefits

▪   Recent bank statements

▪   Business and farm records

▪   Investments records

▪   Driver’s license

▪   Social security cards

▪   Dates of birth

If you are unable to fill out your FAFSA with these important materials, we will be detailing how to proceed in special circumstances throughout this guide.

Generally, every student is encouraged to apply for financial aid annually, because changing financial and family circumstances can affect whether a student is eligible for aid. For instance, one example provided by The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid is that of a student who didn’t qualify for student aid one year, but became eligible the following year because of a sister enrolling in college.

Additionally, certain private colleges require other supplemental forms as well as the FAFSA to obtain information for their own grants, scholarships, and loans not determined by the FAFSA. Students can click the CSS Profile form if they are asked to do so by their potential universities, and other information on other necessary forms can be obtained through the colleges. The rules regarding the CSS Profile are more flexible, such as the liquidity to submit the profile in the fall, whereas FAFSA cannot be submitted prior to January 1.

FAFSA deadlines are important — applications cannot be submitted before January 1st, and ideally they will submit by February 15, because according to most state deadlines, the form should be submitted no later than March 1.

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