In case you haven’t heard, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available on October 1st. That means that it’s time for high school seniors to collect all their documents so they can fill out the FAFSA. Why? Because you will need to have submitted the FAFSA to be eligible for financial aid awarded by the federal government, colleges, and many states. And the sooner, the better. While filing out the FAFSA isn’t the key to great financial aid, it is a necessary step.
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If you don’t think you need to fill out the FAFSA, you need to read I won’t qualify for financial aid, why should I fill out the FAFSA? It may not be fun but it’s a good way to avoid leaving free money on the table. Besides, The Department of Education estimates the average time to complete the FAFSA, including gathering documents, to take two hours and it is two hours well spent. If you find yourself needing some help with the FAFSA, try these resources first.
Free FAFSA Web Resources
The FAFSA website has several resources that can help you with the FAFSA. You can estimate your eligibility for federal student aid by completing the FAFSA4caster. You can also print out the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to help you get your information organized before you start the application.
Download the Complete the FAFSA for a detailed guide to completing the application including help on specific questions.
NerdWallet has a FAFSA tutorial along with guides for various family situations. Users can also submit questions to be answered by the website’s counselors.
Khan Academy has a paying for college section that includes a video walk-through of the FAFSA as well as the PROFILE.
This is a one stop explanation for everything FAFSA. It covers everything from when to apply, numbers showing why everyone should apply, guide for applying online, and a FAQ section.
The FAFSA Help Guide takes you through filling out the FAFSA by showing each screen of the online application. You have to fill out contact information to get the PDF version but you can use the website version without having to give your information. You can go through the online version to see if it’s worth the trouble to download the PDF.
This can be very useful since it’s easy to tab through the sections with all the questions listed on the site. It’s easy to click on the area you need more information.
Video walk-through available on YouTube. They also offer a PDF you can download on their website. It’s not a step-by-step guide but includes a section on tips for students in unique situations.
Download the PDF on FAFSA Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid.
This PDF is not a step-by-step guide but does answer some of the most commonly asked questions students and families might have.
In-Person FAFSA Help
Pay attention for announcements from your high school and local libraries for these type of free events.
Form Your Future (FAFSA completion events)
The National College Access Network has taken over the College Goal Sunday program. Get free help with the FAFSA in person by attending a College Goal Sunday/FAFSA completion event. The website links to resources and events in each state (it’s easy to miss, look at the bottom of the page.)
Some states have agencies that provide assistance in completing the FAFSA. For example, the EducationQuest Foundation in Nebraska provides free help by appointment. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, Invested, FAFSA Help Ohio, and the Finance Authority of Maine conduct In-Person Help Events.
Real Time FAFSA Help Options
Talk with a live person by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center: 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
Financial Aid/FAFSA Webinars
Paid FAFSA Preparers
As when completing your taxes, families can choose to pay a preparer to complete the FAFSA. In the past, some companies took advantage of students charging them to complete a form that they were unaware that they could complete for free. So there is a great deal of emphasis on not having to pay to file the FAFSA and available resources to help with completing the form.
However, given that Mark Kantrowitz, an expert of the FAFSA, states in the New York Times that “Even a certified public accountant or certified financial planner may not have in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of federal student aid laws and regulations” you would think hiring an actual expert would be a good thing. If you decide you would rather spend money than time in completing the FAFSA, practice due diligence in selecting a provider.
And to keep a little perspective, read The Top Ten Ways A FAFSA Is Like A Colonoscopy.
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