You are probably spending your last semester of high school getting ready your prom, your final exams or even your graduation, but you should also be getting ready for college too. You can prepare for college even though you may not even know which college or university you are going to attend. If you need scholarships, grants and other types of federal aid to help pay for college, then you will need to apply for federal student aid early.
Applying for federal student aid starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You can begin filling out the FAFSA as early as October 1st. For example, if you are applying for financial aid for the 2017-2018 school year, you can start filling out the FAFSA on October 1, 2016.
You also have a deadline of June 30 to apply for financial aid for the previous school year. For example, you can apply for financial aid as late as June 30, 2018 for the 2017- 2018 school year. A school year is measured from July 1 to June 30. For more information, please check this page.
There are many advantages to filling out the FAFSA early, and you will soon find that filling out the FAFSA should be one of your top priorities as you prepare for college. You have worked hard to get to where you are, and college is just around the corner. Taking the extra time to fill out the FAFSA while you are still in high school could mean putting extra money in your pocket.
1. Gathering Your Paperwork
You will need several documents in order to fill out the FAFSA. Some of these documents include your most recent tax return, current bank statements and other statements showing financial records, such as savings accounts. It takes time to get these documents together, which makes getting an early start even more important. It’s OK to use your tax return from the previous year if you are filling out the FAFSA before you file your tax returns for the current year. Don’t let this be the reason why you wait to fill out the FAFSA at a later time.
2. Getting Your Student Aid Report
You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within a few weeks of filling out the FAFSA. This report will give your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, which indicates how much money you will be responsible for contributing towards your own college education. The EFC is a calculation that’s determined from a number of factors based on information from your FAFSA. Colleges and universities use the information from the student aid report, to determine eligibility for scholarships, grants and other types of federal financial aid. As previously mentioned, it can take some time to receive a student aid report after filling out the FAFSA, so getting an early start is important.
3. First Come, First Served
You could be eligible for need-based scholarships, but these scholarships are limited in number. Therefore, these scholarships will be given out to all applicants showing a financial need until the money runs out. This is good news for early applicants and bad news for those applicants that need the money but did not fill out the FAFSA early enough.
Federal loans, like the Stafford and Perkins loan, will be granted if you are eligible for them regardless of how early or how late you fill out the FAFSA. However, you could be eligible for certain types of State aid that is mostly offered on a limited basis, and only to the first applicants. Again, filling out the FAFSA early is beneficial.
4. Getting Your Money On Time
Waiting until the last minute to fill out your FAFSA could mean that you will not get your money in time to pay for your first semester of college. Larger schools will need more time to process your federal student aid. Filling out the FAFSA early will also give you additional time to correct any errors if needed. If you don’t get your aid processed in time then you will then have to make other financial arrangements to pay for your first semester until your federal student aid comes through. This is a hassle you may not want to deal with while you are trying to start your year. However, you can still get federal financial aid after you have paid for your first and even your second semester. You can fill out the FAFSA even though you may not know which college or university you’re attending. The FAFSA contains a section where you will list every school you are interested in attending, and your student aid report will be sent to those schools on that list.
5. The Bottom Line
Your senior year of high school is already filled with plenty of things to keep you busy. However, you’ve already been diligent about getting your college applications in early, so filling out the FAFSA as early as possible is a hurdle you can easily clear. Of course, filling out the FAFSA early is in the best interests of everyone going to college, not just high school seniors. Completing the FAFSA early cannot hurt, but it can benefit you tremendously. Early submission of the FAFSA is much like the Black Friday sales during the Thanksgiving holiday. Those that get in line early will have the best opportunity to get the most out of their college education for the least amount of money.