The FAFSA Process
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is the first step in the financial aid process. Filling out this form makes you eligible for federal, state, and many times institutional need-based aid. This application is free at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Gather all necessary information: In order to expedite the process, pull together important information that you will need in order to fill out the FAFSA, such as: Social Security Number, driver’s license number, income tax returns, bank statements, and investment records.
Fill out the FAFSA and submit BEFORE March 10: The FAFSA should be filed after January 1 of the senior year and before the state or college deadline (whichever comes first) every spring in advance of attending college in the fall. Be sure you know the FAFSA deadline for each college you are planning to attend! The information submitted on the FAFSA goes to the U.S. Department of Education Federal Processor which generates an Expected Family Contribution. If insufficient information is provided and/or data are missing, the FAFSA will be rejected by the Federal Processor. The information submitted on the FAFSA must be complete in order for it to be processed. The student must list on the FAFSA all the college(s) s/he may want to attend. This information will be sent only to the colleges listed.
Evaluate financial aid awards from colleges: Once the colleges listed on the FAFSA receive the student’s final FAFSA information, they will process financial aid awards for the student. The process from filing the FAFSA to getting a financial aid award varies by institution. These awards typically include any federal, state, and institutional forms of financial aid, both need-based and merit-based. If the student believes s/he is eligible for federal or state funding not listed on the financial aid award, s/he should call the financial aid office. The student may receive several subsequent revised financial aid awards from the same college if they receive scholarships from private sources, or if there are changes in the federal or state funding formula.
Once the student decides which college s/he will attend, the student must accept or decline various components of the financial aid award. Typically, students will decline the loans if they are able to make up the difference from other sources. Be sure to pay attention to the stated deadlines by which the awards must be accepted (or declined).