Newswise — Earning a degree is something that should challenge your mind, not your wallet. Experts at Temple University in Philadelphia know that sorting out student financial matters can be a daunting task, filled with legalese and strange acronyms. But don't worry—they are here to help.
The first step in figuring out how to pay for college is successfully filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Here are five tips for doing just that.
1. File early!FAFSA applications for the 2016–2017 school year opened Jan. 1, and Temple’s Director of Student Financial Services Craig Fennell recommends filing as early as possible.
“Financial aid is a finite resource,” he said. “You want to be first in line.”
Don’t delay if you haven’t filed your taxes yet—you can use estimates from last year’s tax return and update the form with more current information later. And experts agree it’s worth applying regardless of predicted outcome; in fact, one 2009 analysis estimated that 2.3 million students who would have qualified for a federal Pell Grant didn’t complete the form. “At least do it in the first year just to see what happens,” advised Fennell. “It’s not a requirement, but it can be in your best interest.”
2. Avoid shortcuts.Remember that the first letter in the FAFSA acronym stands for “free”—not, say, frightening. While it may seem overwhelming, the application doesn’t cost anything, so be wary of paid services that purport to complete the form for you.
Be sure to have the necessary information at the ready when you sit down to fill out the FAFSA. Fennell said a two-hour window should be sufficient time for first-timers to carefully complete the application. 3. Remember your logins. You’ll need ’em again.The FAFSA requires both students and parents to create unique credentials, known as FSA IDs. Safely store your login information because you’ll need it again: You must complete the FAFSA for every academic year, using the same unique FSA ID, to qualify for financial aid. 4. So you’ve filed—but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily done.After completing your FAFSA, you’ll receive a summary in the form of a Student Aid Report (SAR) or what’s called a SAR Acknowledgement. Fennell noted that carefully reviewing those documents is crucial, because they present an opportunity to correct any errors you may have made.
“The comments section will tell you what you have not done and what you’ve done well,” noted Emilie Van Trieste, Temple’s associate director for Student Financial Services. Temple, for example, can’t process a financial aid request with an incomplete FAFSA, she added.
Financial aid applicants may also be selected for a verification process. If you are, you’ll need to take additional steps to verify personal information. Keep an eye out for this. 5. Read the fine print.If you’re accepted to and decide to enroll at a college, you’ll need to accept your aid package. But first, you should know exactly what you’re signing up for. Read up on all the terms and commitments that come with each form of assistance before accepting.
For more information, Temple's Student Financial Services has a comprehensive list of tips for completing the FAFSA and Federal Student Aid offers a number of helpful videos on YouTube.