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Paying for College: 5 FAFSA Tips

As college tuition costs continue to rise, parents and students are left struggling to find ways to pay. 

The first step every future college student should take is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. According to, that form offers access to some $150 billion in federal financial aid, from grants and work-study programs to federal student loans. 

Don’t let common misperceptions regarding FAFSA hold you back from tapping financial aid. Here’s what you need to know about FAFSAs.

Don’t assume: Surveys reveal that the number one reason cited for not completing the FAFSA is the belief that they won’t qualify for aid. That could be a costly mistake. Even if you don’t think you’ll need assistance to pay for college, should anything unexpected come up at least you’ve already completed the first step. 

Be prepared: This is a time investment of about an hour or so. It helps to have everything you need on hand, including: Social security number, driver’s license number, banking statements, W2 forms, tax returns and the name of at least one school. You can even apply on your mobile device with the myStudentAid app. In addition, an IRS Data Retrieval Toolwill automatically populate all of your tax information into the form. Making time for an hour now will pay off later. 

File early: Schools use the FAFSA to determine financial aid award packages. Depending on the type of financial aid, funding is usually on a first-come, first-served basis. FAFSA applications can be filed starting Oct. 1 through June 30 of the calendar year before students plan to attend college. Some colleges and university also use information on FAFSAs to determine nonfederal financial aid, so be sure to check if the schools you’re applying to have their own deadlines. 

File annually: This is not a one-and-done activity. Things can change from year to year so mark Oct. 1 as FAFSA application submission day on your calendar. The good news is once you’ve filled out an application on, you can automatically input information. 

Review your Student Aid Report: The Student Aid Report provides a detailed summary of your information and eligibility. Correct any errors you find online. Schools will use this information to create a financial aid package. Look for these package award letters around the same time as admission letters start rolling in.