Dec 21, 2012

Getting Ahead in the Financial Aid Game

It’s easy to win the financial aid game by going on the offensive early. While the folks at the US Department of Education feverishly prepare for kickoff on January 1st, take to the practice field and work on getting in shape starting today.

Simply follow these eight 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.  Visit the FAFSA website ( 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 local sources of assistance for completing the form if you need help when the time comes. In general, the FAFSA website is pretty user-friendly, even if 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, as they are your official signatures for electronic submissions. They are free and very easy to obtain. Again, if anyone wants to charge you for a FAFSA PIN, don’t fall for it. This is a service brought to you by your federal government.

3.  Check out the videos.  The Feds know how much you're into YouTube, so they’ve put together two very useful videos designed to introduce you to the FAFSA.  “The FAFSA Overview” will show you how FAFSA gives you access to grants, loans and work-study jobs that can help you fund your education, and “Overview of the Financial Aid Process” will introduce you to the Office of Federal Student Aid.

4.  Download ‘Federal Student Aid at a Glance.’ This user-friendly guide provides a quick and easy introduction to the types of federal student aid, the application process, and eligibility requirements. It’s your basic FAFSA rule book.

5.  Listen to the FAFSA Essentials Webinar. Thanks to our friends at NACAC, you can walk through the FAFSA application and program process by listening to a recording of a webinar that took place earlier this month. You’ll also get as a heads up on changes to the 2013-14 FAFSA and a few insider tips on how the new FAFSA link with the IRS works.

6.  Note deadlines. You should complete the FAFSA as early in the New Year as humanly possible. Don’t use IRS or tax deadlines as your guide because states and individual colleges have way earlier financial aid due dates. Georgetown University, for example, posts February 1st as its deadline for FAFSA submission. You may estimate if necessary by using 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.

7.  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 have handy to complete the real deal in January. Note that changes for 2013-14 are minimal, so go ahead and work with the 2012-13 version until the new one is posted.

8.  Test Drive FAFSA4caster. While not exactly a crystal ball, this handy site (look on the lower right side of the page for the link) will help you get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid. You can test out different college options and compare the costs and benefits of each. If you haven’t really thought about the money yet, this is your opportunity for a reality check.
FAFSA will release access to a 2013-14 practice site some time toward the end of the month. This site will allow you to train on the FAFSA application and may be found at (the user name is “eddemo” and the password is “fafsatest”).

If you have questions concerning FAFSA, the process, or the website, don’t hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You can also contact the center by email at

Begin warming up now and you'll be ready to play in January!

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