The 2018-2019 free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) submission window is open as of October 1, with roughly $120 billion in federal student aid up for grabs.
Filling out the FAFSA form can be a tedious process, often requiring the assistance of parents or guardians. For parents, experts at student loan company Sallie Mae have a few tips to avoid running into issues.
They recommend filing a new FAFSA application each year -- first as a high school senior and in every subsequent year of college and graduate school -- “regardless of whether you think you will qualify for funding.”
A student's eligibility and amount they qualify for can vary year-over-year.
To complete a FAFSA application students and their families should:
Gather information. Before starting the application, parents and students should create a username and password (a Federal Student Aid ID) and gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank statements, 2016 tax returns, and W-2 forms.
Be an early bird. Because some financial aid is doled out on a first-come, first served basis, completing the form early can boost your chance of getting that aid. Submitting the FAFSA soon after October 1 can also expedite financial aid from your student's school.
Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool can help you import and convert tax information directly into the FAFSA.
Watch out for imposters. The only way to fill out a FAFSA is at fafsa.gov. Beware of sites that charge a fee or make promises that sound too good to be true. To reduce the risk of identity theft, keep your Federal Student Aid ID confidential.
List at least one school. Families should list at least one school on the FAFSA. Some state aid is based on the order of how schools are listed, so consider listing state schools first to be in line for state aid. If your child is applying to more than ten schools, follow this process.
What happens next
After you have completed the application, you will get a Student Aid Report summarizing your form. This will give you a chance to modify your application and correct any errors.
Once your student is accepted by a college, you must then decide whether to accept your aid package. Make sure you know which type of aid you're getting (if it's a grant or a aid requiring reimbursement). Read up on all the terms and commitments that come with each form of assistance. For more tips on accepting aid, click here.
Additional information is available at studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.