If you (or a loved one) plan to attend college during the fall 2018 semester, October 1st is an important day for you; it’s when the Department of Education starts accepting students’ Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAs). These applications are required to access state and federal financial aid, including grants, loans and work-study funds for students attending college or career schools.
October 1st may seem early—and it is, historically. When I was enrolling, my FAFSA was accepted beginning on January 1st of the year I planned to attend school. The timeline moved up in 2016, when the Federal Student Aid program made significant changes to the FAFSA process.
Here’s what you need to know about FAFSA to help improve your chances of receiving aid.
Apply as early as possible.
While you technically have until June 30th, 2018 to submit your application, many states have first-come, first-served policies for aid. That means the earlier you apply, the better your odds are for receiving assistance. The U.S. Department of Education also maintains a state-by-state list, or you can view links to each state’s scholarship agency here.
Submit your FAFSA, even if you don’t think you have a “need.”
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with regards to enrolling in college is not filling out your FAFSA. Almost all government financial aid is needs-driven. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t submit a FAFSA if you don’t have “need.” The information provided on FAFSA will still guide the financial aid packages individual colleges offer (i.e. private scholarships and grants).
Remember, you must submit student and household income.
This is another reason it pays to start early. It can take a while to assess both you and your household’s available resources and income, depending on the complexity of your family’s financial situation.
Base income information on tax returns from 2016.
The income information you enter should be based on the tax return filed in the previous year. So, if you’re submitting a FAFSA this year for the fall 2018 semester, use 2016 tax return information.
Nail down your list of target schools.
Take time to prepare a list of schools you are considering, and enter them into the FAFSA. A common ‘pro-tip’ is to list state schools first, as these schools may give you priority if you list them higher on the list. And you could miss out on some of your state’s government aid if the they show up further down the list.
Don’t worry—it’s not set in stone.
The FAFSA isn’t a one-time submission. You can add or remove schools you are considering or adjust family income if there has been a significant change (done through a special circumstance form).
Applying for FAFSA can seem overwhelming, but the information above will help streamline the process. Plus, by applying as close to October 1st as possible, you can feel good about the fact that you’ve boosted your chances for receiving aid.
For additional resources tailored to your specific situation, click on the link below to take our 2-minute Financial Wellness Assessment to access resources focused on the areas of your finances that matter most.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be used as investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. All investing involves risk. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors.
This post was written by a member of the Plancorp Women’s Initiative, which strives to advocate for clients and women in the community by addressing topics specific to their financial lives. For more information about the Women’s Initiative and how you can get involved, email email@example.com or visit the Plancorp Women’s Initiative page.