College planning and the financial aid process

Utilize resources such as FAFSA for college financial aid

Or maybe they think it's too big a hassle.

Students and their parents have heard so much about how daunting the form is, with its 100-plus questions.It's true that the applications is long (some experts say needlessly long), and a few questions are tricky. You can find the official list of FAFSA deadlines here.

Relax. The FAFSA process can be a headache, but it's not impossible. Mistake Number 1: Assuming you won't qualify for grants.

The amount of money awarded is all determined by a formula that shows the expected family contribution. Pell Grants are a good example; you don't have to pay them back the way you do student loans. The only way to fill out a FAFSA is at fafsa.gov.

You might also need to file the FAFSA to qualify for scholarships through your college.

At FAFSA Day, students will have the opportunity to work with qualified financial aid administrators to complete their FAFSA forms. If you took out a federal student loan last year, you'll likely need another one this year. The service is an outgrowth of research conducted by Ben Castleman, a University of Virginia education professor, who found that engaging students through text messages increased their completion of the FAFSA by about 12 percent.


Completing the FAFSA is the only way to receive federal student loans, which NerdWallet said offer more protections and typically lower interest rates than private student loans. For undergraduates, the interest rates on subsidized and unsubsidized Direct loans is now 4.45% (for loans disbursed between July 2017 and July 2018).

High school seniors and incoming freshmen generally are targeted by guidance and admissions counselors to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as early as possible. For one, the window for filing the FAFSA is now three months longer than it used to be-Oct.

Students and parents should use their 2016 tax information. And last year's change-allowing families to use older tax information-means the form should be easier for most applicants to fill out, since they'll have finalized tax returns to pull income information from.

Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

With that in mind, college access organization Get Schooled focuses its initial outreach in states with early financial aid award deadlines such as Kentucky, Illinois and SC, said its executive director Marie Groark. But the only way to get access to all that aid is by filling out your FAFSA form. If you filed a year ago, log in to the FAFSA website with your FSA ID and click the FAFSA Renewal button.

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