January 3, 2013
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2013-2014 academic year is now available for students to complete, and college students are advised to submit the application as soon as possible.
As Orange County Breeze explained, the FAFSA is used to determine one's eligibility for federal aid through scholarships, grants, and loans. The application is also necessary in calculating students' and parents' Expected Family Contribution (EFC) towards college costs. Schools typically use the information provided in the FAFSA when deciding on financial aid packages to offer.
The federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30. However, as U.S. News & World Report asserted, students should complete the form sooner rather than later to avoid missing out on first-come, first-served federal student aid programs and to meet early state deadlines. To find out their state's deadline, students should visit the FAFSA website.
Another significant incentive for getting an early start on the FAFSA is to have enough time to find and compile necessary documents, including bank statements, investment information, social security numbers, federal income tax returns, and driver's license numbers. Although students do need 2012 tax information for the form, The Huffington Post recommended that students complete the form using estimated data to avoid missing important deadlines, noting that individuals can always update the form when they have their 2012 data.
While working on the FAFSA, parents and students should make sure to report tax data from the 1040 federal form and not the W-2, wrote Orange Country Breeze. They should also include all untaxed income, such as child support and social security, and students should list, not only their parents', but also their stepparent's information if applicable. Finally, students must submit the form on time, as missing deadlines is often why students do not receive potential aid.
The Huffington Post offered additional FAFSA tips for students. For questions that do not apply to their specific situation, students should enter a zero or "N/A." Leaving the answer blank could result in a processing error and delay submission. Furthermore, because the information requested on financial aid forms is not always an accurate reflection of one's financial situation, students should include any factors that may affect their or their parents' ability to pay for college through a special circumstance notice. Examples of such situations may include supporting an aging parent, having reduced work hours, or paying for another child's private school education. Based on the supplemental information provided, colleges may adjust one's EFC.
Once the FAFSA is completed, students and one of their parents must create a PIN number in order to electronically sign the application. They should also make a copy of the form for their own records in case any issues or questions regarding the submission arise.
Finally, every incoming and continuing college student should complete the FAFSA regardless of their financial status. Students should not assume that their family income is too high, as a variety of factors affect one's eligibility.
Compiled by Aneesha Jhingan
"College Students: Ring in the New Year With the FAFSA," usnewsuniversitydirectory.com, December 31, 2012, Catherine Groux
"Five Things to Keep in Mind as You File For Financial Aid," huffingtonpost.com, January 2, 2013, Maura Kastberg
"January means filling out a FAFSA for student financial aid," oc-breeze.com, December 31, 2012, Margene Walz