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Federal Aid

Federal student financial aid is an integral part of paying for college, but applying for aid is time consuming. Applying for federal aid is the step towards funding your education. For parents who are sending their child to college, or for students who are paying for school on their own, applying for federal aid requires tax documents to complete the 100-plus question form. Even Congressmen and Ph.D. candidates are often intimidated by the process.

Many companies charge a fee to finish college students’ federal aid applications. Websites also charge students for consulting services for federal student aid. Private college consultants and tax preparers will also complete your federal aid application for a price.

The good news is you can apply for federal aid on your own when applying for college. For extra help, go online to the Department of Education’s website, or free funding websites like Scholarships.com. Your high school’s college counselor, and college’s financial aid office will answer any questions you have. Also, many schools offer free workshops on completing the FAFSA and applying for federal student financial aid.

All About the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the main application for federal aid programs. The FAFSA determines an individual’s ability to pay for college. According to the Department of Education, tax information from the previous year yields the most accurate assessments. You will need both your 1040 and W-2 to complete the FAFSA.

During the winter or spring before attend college, you must complete a FAFSA online. Applications are available on January 1st each year and you must complete a new application for every year you are in school. FAFSA deadlines vary by state and are as early as the February before your financial aid request.

If you are an undergraduate under 24, not married, no kids, and is neither a veteran nor a foster child or emancipated minor, you must use your parents’ tax information as well as your own, regardless of who is paying tuition. If you are independent from your parents, you can appeal through your school’s financial aid office. You can also appeal based on changes in your financial situation that were not reflected in your income taxes, such as losing a job.

Understanding Federal Aid

After you’ve completed the FAFSA, you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail with a link to your Student Aid Report, or SAR. You will also have a link to view your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the number that determines your eligibility for federal grants. From there, your information is sent to the schools indicated on your FAFSA. The rest of the financial aid process will then be through your school.

With the many acronyms used for financial aid applications and packages, financial aid language is difficult to understand. For extra help, check out our page detailing common acronyms on the FAFSA such as the SAR. There are also more details on federal grant programs and other forms of student aid.

Your college’s financial aid office and your high school’s college counselor have resources that to help you through the financial aid application process. Stay updated with the financial aid process. Remember, when you’re paying for school, every dollar counts.

Last Reviewed: March 2017

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