Though it's a day off from school and work, New Year's Day is often seen as a day to get down to business. While you're starting in on your New Year's resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there's one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should consider doing. The Department of Education starts accepting the 2009-2010 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1. State application deadlines start happening soon after, beginning with Connecticut's February 15 priority deadline. So while you might not be starting school until August or September, you want to be applying for financial aid right now.
What You Need
In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following documents:
If you do not have your tax information yet, and most likely you don't, you can use your 2007 tax information to estimate 2008. That way, you have a FAFSA on file and once you've done your taxes for the new year, you'll be able to submit a correction online. While that might seem like more work, it's the best recipe for maximizing your state and campus-based aid packages. If things changed drastically for your family in 2008, apply for student financial aid with the information you have, then talk to your school's financial aid office to adjust your information accordingly.
Why You Should Apply
Completing a FAFSA is an important step in funding your education if you don't plan on paying for everything out-of-pocket. The FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college. This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work-study, and federal student loans. It is also used by states to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs, such as state grants. Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer. Finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application process. Even if you think that you won't qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply. At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing for school.
Where To Get More Information
Start on the FAFSA homepage and go through the links under "Before Beginning a FAFSA" to get started, especially if this is your first time filing. You'll find information about application deadlines, required documents, applying for a PIN, and other things you need to know about to begin. If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, 2009-2010 worksheets are already available on fafsa.ed.gov. The ambitious among us can even fill out a worksheet now, then copy the information into their FAFSA on the Web beginning tomorrow.
We also offer a wealth of resources on financial aid at Scholarships.com. Check out the financial aid section on our Resources page for further reading.