What is FAFSA and what do you need to know about it if you’re planning on attending college in the coming year? FAFSA is one of those awesome acronyms that the government likes to use that stands for the “free application for federal student aid.” Back in my day, we had to fill that sucker out by hand with number two pencils but today the FAFSA offers a very simple and easy to complete online application process. Just fill this thing out and you’ll put yourself into consideration to receive all available federal funding to pursue your education. This includes student loan programs that dole out funds that do have to be repaid and several grants with funds that do not need to be repaid. So if you think that you might want to attend school in the coming year, I highly suggest spending the fifteen minutes it takes to fill out this form just to see what you might be eligible to receive.
Grant funding available by filling out this student aid application includes the two big federal education grants: the Pell and the FSEOG. It also determines eligibility for work-study programs and student loans. Pell grants and direct loans are handled by the U.S. Department of Education. The FSEOG, Perkins loan and work-study funds are administered by your individual school instead. There are several other types of federal education grants that are not applied for through filling out a FAFSA but they only involve programs that fund student research and abroad study. Usually these things only apply to upperclassmen or graduate students, so if you’re an incoming freshman don’t worry about that for now.
What you should worry about instead are the yearly application deadlines for applying for aid and there is a very easy way to find out when those deadlines will occur. The Department of Education provides a student aid deadline calculator on the FAFSA website to allow you to check individual deadlines for where you live. A quick look at my situation for the upcoming school year returned June 30th for both federal and state application. A look at several other states provided differing deadline scenarios depending on what state I entered into the FAFSA calculator. I suggest you consult this deadline tool and double check with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. And if the school year is coming up, I suggest you do that quickly. Don’t miss a hard deadline for this valuable source of federal aid and then find yourself unable to afford to register for classes.
Since federal and state deadlines often vary wildly from each other and since some types of funding are distributed on a first come first serve basis, you should always apply as early as possible for federal student aid. Earlier this year, I wrote this story about the best day to fill out the FAFSA. That day is January 1st of course which is the first day each year that you can apply. Now applying at anytime during the application period is in fact perfectly fine in respect to receiving a Pell or a student loan. However, school specific dollars are traditionally meted out only while the federal money lasts. This means that once that funding is gone it is simply too late to apply. My state suggested applying for local based aid beginning on January 1st. So if you have an extreme financial need and still plan to attend school this year, I suggest you get on the ball and apply as quickly as possible.
Regardless of where you wish to attend school or what type of degree you choose to earn, I wish you luck in your search for federal funding. Getting an education can truly change your life allowing you access to better jobs and higher salaries. Not only that, the knowledge you gain in college and the overall learning experience to be had is something that will stay with you for the rest of your entire adult life. The federal government has made it easier than ever to attend school through federal education funding. Don’t miss out on your chance to be a part of a university community this year by forgetting to fill out your FAFSA.