The federal government’s FAFSA deadline isn’t until June 30th, but many states and colleges have earlier deadlines. Smart students (and parents) will complete one sooner rather than later in order to secure the financial assistance they want to help pay for college.

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a form that collects the information that financial aid offices use to determine how much support a college applicant is eligible for, including scholarships, grants, and loans. Completing a FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid application process at many colleges and universities.

Many schools use the FAFSA as their starting point for all need-based financial aid decisions, regardless of whether or not the applicant expects government funding. Even if the only kind of financial aid you’re hoping for is a tuition waiver or other school-sponsored award, you may be asked to complete a FAFSA. Check the requirements at the schools you’re applying to.

Timing is important because many schools distribute need-based financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis and may not have enough resources to give later applicants all of the support they are eligible for. It’s in your best interests to submit a FAFSA early in the year, while funds are still plentiful.
You don’t need to wait until you have this year’s income tax return information to complete a FAFSA. You can enter a reasonable estimate of your family’s income over the past year on your FAFSA now and update the information once the actual figures are available.

The FAFSA is available as either a printed or an on-line form. Paper FAFSAs are available from high schools and college financial aid offices. The online application is available at the official FAFSA website, www.fafsa.ed.gov.

One last word of caution: Don’t confuse the official FAFSA website with ‘spoof’ sites that charge applicants money to find scholarships or to apply for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is, as its name suggests, free. If you’re looking at a webpage that mentions charging a fee for any part of the service, you’re at the wrong place.

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