Four installments of college application advice have come down to this: the (not-so-dreaded) FAFSA!
After you have submitted your applications, usually in the fall of your senior year, the next big step is filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA. This form is the one-stop-shop set up by the federal government for students to apply for government-funded grants and loans. The form opens up on January 1, and aid is awarded on a first-come first-served basis. This does not mean that a student whose parents make $200,000 per year who applies on January 1 will get more aid than a student whose parents make $60,000/year who applies two weeks later. However, it does mean that if two students whose parents’ annual income is roughly the same apply several weeks apart, the one who applies first is likely to get more aid. Though the idea of filling out a federal form online may seem daunting at first, as long as you have the right tools and knowledge, it can be fairly simple.
Before you fill out the FAFSA, you and at least one parent or guardian will need a FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID (if you had heard about a FAFSA pin before now, the FSA ID is replacing that this year). Once you have that, you will also need your social security number, your W2s if you work, and your parents’ W2s, as well as your parents’ most recent tax return. It is suggested that you apply for financial aid through the FAFSA as soon as possible, so you can always use your parents’ tax information from the previous year and then update it later if anything changes. If you have trouble figuring out what you need to fill out the FAFSA or have more specific questions, always be sure to ask your guidance counselor if they can help you. There might even be classes offered by local colleges or organizations on how to fill out the FAFSA.
For more help in filing the FAFSA, check out this advice:
- Our Favorite FAFSA Advice and Resources
- FAFSA Changes: The Upside (and the Down)
- FAFSA: Early Birds Get the Best Aid
Then, before you know it, whether it’s as early as Thanksgiving or as late as spring break, it will be time to make your final decision. Once you have all of your acceptance letters and financial aid results (plus all that research you did), it’s time to decide where you want to spend the next four years of your life. There is no formula for which colleges are better than others: it all depends on the individual person and what matters to you. Needless to say, it takes a lot of hard work to get into college, but there is no limit to where a higher education can take you.
See Emily’s entire college admission timeline series: