When you apply for financial aid, you will need to locate paperwork, crunch numbers, fill out forms, meet deadlines, and more. The process can seem complicated and intimidating. But MEFA is here to help, with useful tips and resources that will make your life easier.
Know the Deadlines
- Find out each college’s specific application deadlines, which are typically available on the school’s website, and be sure to meet all deadlines.
- Be aware of all financial aid deadlines related to Early Action and Early Decision applications, if applicable. These deadlines will likely be during the fall.
- Don’t wait until your tax returns are complete to file financial aid applications, because you will most likely miss the application deadline. If necessary, you can complete the FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® with an estimate of your current year income and follow up with exact figures later.
Satisfy All Requirements
- Be sure that both the student and the parent apply for an FSA ID when completing the FAFSA. Each of you will need to use a separate FSA ID to sign the FAFSA electronically. You can apply for an FSA ID at the Federal Student Aid FSA ID site.
- Calculate your estimated income numbers as accurately as possible, because these estimates affect the initial award package you receive.
- Complete a separate application for each member of your family planning to attend college.
- Confirm the student’s federal dependency status — dependent or independent — and the information requirements for each. You can learn more at Federal Student Aid’s Dependency Status webpage.
- Remember that the phrases “your name” and “your Social Security Number” on the FAFSA refer to the student (not the parent).
- Understand the following requirements for the reporting of parents’ financial information on the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE® (see the Federal Student Aid’s Reporting Parent Information webpage for more details):
- Married (including same-sex parents): both parents provide information
- Single or Widowed: one parent provides information
- Divorced or Separated: the parent who the student lived with more during the prior 12 months provides information (if that parent is remarried, include step-parent’s information, including same-sex step-parents)
- Court-Appointed Legal Guardian or Foster Parent: no parental information is required on the FAFSA, because the student is considered federally independent. On the CSS PROFILE®, the Legal Guardian should answer the parent questions.
Take Advantage of Resources
- Fill out the application at the FAFSA website to reduce errors and speed up the process. Save your information periodically to avoid losing the work you’ve already done and to be able to leave the website and return later exactly where you left off.
- Attend a FAFSA Day event in your community in January or February to receive free help completing the FAFSA.
- Communicate any special circumstances that affect your family’s financial situation and your ability to pay for college by writing to the financial aid office at each school on your list.
- Contact the college’s financial aid office for assistance if you need help completing your forms.
- Create a family email address so that everyone can keep track of correspondence that will be sent by the Federal Student Aid office, colleges and universities, and others.
- Keep copies of everything you are asked to submit to the financial aid office, including tax forms, income documents, and bank statements.
- To ensure that you have access to all of your financial aid information whenever you need it, store the following documents in one place:
- Copies of submitted documents
- Year-end bank statements and account summaries
- Year-end pay stubs, W2s, and 1099s
- Most recently completed tax returns and/or official tax return transcript
- Verification forms, if required
- Acceptance letters
- Financial aid award letters
- Outside scholarship information