Seniors, now that you’re starting to apply for college admissions, it’s time to find out what financial aid you might have available to help you pay for school. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) helps determine whether students are eligible for federal loans, grants, or work-study programs. Many colleges also require it to be on file for their own need-based or merit-based grants and scholarships. You may have heard others talk about it and wonder if you should complete the form. Even if you’re uncertain about attending college, complete the application to keep your options open. Plus, it’s FREE! To make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible, here are ways you can get prepared to file for financial aid come this October.

Parent and student working on the FAFSA

Gather all Required Documents/Information

As a family, review the FAFSA checklist for the 2018-19 school year to make sure you have access to the tax information and required documents from 2016. Keep in mind, there might be items on the checklist that do not pertain to your family.

Determine dependency status

Every student who applies for financial aid with the FAFSA will either be considered a dependent or an independent student. It is important to determine dependency because it can affect your financial aid award package. Unfortunately, you do not choose your status; there is a specific questionnaire included on the FAFSA Checklist that helps determine your dependency status.

Determine who is filing

Dependent students are required to report parent information on the FAFSA application. Although the student is the official FAFSA filer, it’s important to determine which parent(s) should be listed. Noncustodial parents, foster parents, and legal guardians do not include their information. If separated or divorced parents are having a hard time deciding which parent to include on the FAFSA, here are the guidelines from the Federal Student Aid website.

Create an FSA ID

Both you and a parent will create separate FSA IDs at fsaid.ed.gov. The FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) is a username and password that you’ll need for the FAFSA and to apply for federal student loans. You will each need an email address to create an FSA ID. Most importantly, write down your FSA IDs and keep them in a safe place! You’ll use them each year to renew your FAFSA application as college students.

Complete the FAFSA

Finally, you’re ready to fill out your FAFSA. Apply on or after October 1, but before your colleges’ priory dates, to ensure that you’re in the running for the most financial aid possible. To avoid making future corrections, list all the colleges you’re interested in attending on the FAFSA. It’s okay if you haven’t applied to them yet or it’s a “safe” college; this guarantees they will receive the FAFSA information in their system.

Finally, if the FAFSA process seems overwhelming, check out the FAFSA Tools from EducationQuest!