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Get ready for FAFSA season


Friday, December 20, 2013

During the holiday season, many students look forward to taking a break from the college search process. But a word of warning, January 1 is fast approaching and your New Year's resolution should be to start working on the FAFSA. While schools in some states accept the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, until as late as June of the coming year, January 1 marks the official first day for submitting the application for the 2014 – 2015 academic year. The earlier you file, the better your chances of being awarded all the aid for which you are eligible.

Act early
If, like many students, you will rely on financial aid to help you pay for college, it pays for you to start the new year by familiarizing yourself with the application process and gathering the necessary paperwork including tax returns or W-2s, bank statements and receipts for unusual expenditures like home repairs or medical bills. While most federal money is awarded based on need, some state and college financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, the sooner you submit the FAFSA, the greater your chances of receiving money to help pay for college.

In addition, completing the FAFSA early will allow you and your family to find out your Expected Family Contribution, the amount you are expected to pay toward the cost of your degree. Knowing this figure as soon as possible can make it easier to prepare for and plan your financial options.

Do your homework
Although the FAFSA is arguably the most important student financial aid form, it is not a blanket application for all forms of financial aid. After submitting your FAFSA, begin researching other sources of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships provided by local governments, private organizations, or local businesses. Many students overlook this type of financing in the belief that they will not qualify. Don't make this mistake. Begin by asking your high school college guidance counselor about these opportunities. Your state may offer college funding programs, so check the official Web site of the state in which you live to learn more. In addition, research scholarships at the schools you are considering.

While it is vital that you apply for financial aid as early as possible, it is equally important that you take great care when preparing your financial aid paperwork. Any mistakes or inaccuracies could result in less money, so be diligent and careful when completing the FAFSA.

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Get ready for FAFSA season
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