FAFSA a Vital Resource for Students’ Financial Aid

a graduation cap on a stack of 100 dollar bills

Applying for college consists of many time-consuming tasks, perhaps none so tedious as filling out the seemingly endless stream of forms.

It would be tempting, then, to ignore any forms that aren’t absolute requirements. However, doing that cost almost a quarter of a million U.S. college students an average of $3,600 each, according to estimates from the financial website Nerdwallet.com.

One neglected form was the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Nerdwallet estimated that students missed out on $7.5 million in Pell Grants, money that Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, provides to eligible students. Grants are the most coveted form of student aid, since they don’t have to be paid back.

FAFSA connects students not only to grants but to student loans and work-study funds, in which students are paid for on-campus jobs.

It’s one form that potentially offers tangible results. Students skip the FAFSA at their own financial risk.

Here are the steps to take to ensure you get any federal student aid for which you might be eligible.

  1. Create a FAFSA account at https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm.
  2. Know the deadlines: Students can apply between Oct. 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018 for the 2017-2018 school year.
  3. Gather your documents: bank statements, records of investments, W-2 forms, your most recent federal income tax returns (if you’re a dependent, you’ll need your parents’ or legal guardian’s returns) and Social Security number.
  4. List the schools to which you’ll be applying. Use FAFSA’s Federal School Code Search at https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/schoolSearch?locale=en_EN.
  5. Complete the form. The easiest and quickest way is online but if that’s not an option you can print out PDFs of the application or request them from one of the schools to which you are applying. Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/options.htm.
  6. Review your financial award package. You should receive it shortly after you start receiving acceptance letters from schools to which you’ve applied. If your financial situation has changed — if, for example, your family’s breadwinner becomes unemployed — you can appeal your award with your school’s financial aid office.
  7. Don’t forget to renew – students must submit a FAFSA application for every year they are in school.
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