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College 101

The FAFSA
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

Ah, the FAFSA, also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as Paperwork from Hell. The only good thing to be said for the FAFSA is that filling it out is slightly less painful than a root canal...oh, and of course, a filled-out FAFSA can result in the dinero you need for college.

"Open wide and say, 'AHHHHHHHHH!!!'"

(Source)

Here's how the FAFSA works. You sit down. You fill it out. You yell at your parents in the other room for certain financial details that only they can provide. You submit the FAFSA. And then you wait.

Because the FAFSA is a snapshot of your financial situation, colleges use it to determine whether or not you're in need of aid. The U.S. government also uses the FAFSA to decide if the taxpayers of America should fund your adventures in post-secondary education, via loans and/or grants.

The FAFSA becomes available every year on January 1st. BTW, if you want to continue to be eligible for financial aid, you'll have to fill out the darned thing every year you are in college. Remember that some FAFSA-related awards are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis, and that the FAFSA can be a real pain in the rear to fill out. Have the documentation you need for the FAFSA (see the aptly named article What You Need to Apply for Financial Aid) ready to go when the new year rolls around so you can do the paperwork in a timely manner.

If you want to maximize your aid eligibility (and you really do), go read Hacking the FAFSA. You're welcome.

Here are some answers to a couple general questions you might have:

Am I Eligible?

Here are the requirements, plain and simple.

  • You must be a U.S. citizen or be eligible as a noncitizen.
  • You must have completed high school or meet other basic requirements showing that you're ready for college.
  • You must have never defaulted on a government student loan or been convicted of a serious drug-related crime while getting government financial aid benefits.
  • You must plan to be enrolled as a student in an eligible college and working toward a certificate or degree.
  • You must meet basic requirements for grades.

Depending on the type of financial aid you're applying for, you might have to meet some other requirements, too. Translation: read the fine print.

How Do I Apply?

The deadline for submitting your FAFSA is March 1st—but please oh please don't wait until February 28th to send it in. The later you apply, the more likely you are to run into delays—and the fewer types of aid you might qualify for—so get on that application as soon as you brush the confetti off your New Year's Eve get-up.

You can apply online, or, if you're still living in the 20th century, you can call 1-800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243).

When you're applying, you're going to need a ton of information about your finances, your parents' finances, and about a zillion other things you didn't even know existed before today. Get everything in order before you dive in, or you might end up smashing your computer against your wall, which…isn't the best way to save money.

One last note. Scammers just love to go after poor, unsuspecting, college-bound young people with fake FAFSA websites that ask for money. DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY. In fact, avoid them altogether. Here are a few we know of: fafsa.com, fafsaonline.com, fafsa.net.

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