Families can get way ahead in the financial aid game by going on the offensive early. Follow these five easy plays from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) playbook and position your team to maximize scholarship potential by learning the drill before game day:
1. Check out the FAFSA website (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/): Accept NO substitutes. And note—this is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s not meant to be a pay to play game. Anyone charging for the privilege of providing you with a FAFSA form or a top-secret internet link is working a scam. Also, be aware that there are a number of FREE sources of assistance for completing the form if you need help when the time comes. In general, the FAFSA website is really pretty user-friendly, even if the color scheme is unfortunate.
2. Apply for your PIN(s): Do it NOW—today even. There’s really no reason not to. Students and parents both need FAFSA PIN numbers. They are free and very easy to get. Again, if anyone wants to charge you for requesting a FAFSA PIN, don’t fall for it. This is a service brought to you by your federal government.
3. Note deadlines: You really should complete the FAFSA as early in the New Year as humanly possible. Don’t use the June 30th deadline as your guide because states and individual colleges have way earlier due dates. You could easily miss out by waiting until March or April. Know that the FAFSA is flexible—you can use previous-year tax information to complete the form. Consider filing a first draft as a placeholder and then plan to go back and amend later.
5. Download the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet: Practice makes perfect, so why not give it a try? Thoughtful government officials even give you the choice of printing the form in color or black and white. All kidding aside, the worksheet will give you a heads up on the questions asked—in the order they are asked—as well as on the kinds of documents you will need to complete the real deal in January. FAFSA goes live January 1, 2010.
A FAFSA web “demonstration site” will be available in mid-December. By that time, you should be very comfortable with the playbook and ready for a practice run. Again, familiarity with the system will save time and improve your chances of scoring a goal early.
If you have questions concerning FAFSA on the Web, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. When prompted to speak a menu option, say “Web site assistance.” You can also contact the Center by email at FederalStudentAidCustomerService@ed.gov.