If you’re hoping to get any kind of financial aid for graduate school, the whole process starts with the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you have a few years before you will be applying, then you may want to seek out a financial planner to help you with your positioning. Much like a tax accountant who legally minimizes your tax liabilities, there are financial planners who specialize in helping college and graduate school applicants minimize their expected financial contributions. These efforts revolve around the FAFSA’s structure.

If you are applying for the coming year, the FAFSA filing period begins on October 1. Quite simply, the sooner you submit your application, the better. Whether you want to get scholarships, grants, or loans, completing the FAFSA is always the first step. This form gathers all the information the financial aid offices will need to determine your financial aid package.

Nearly all grad schools use the FAFSA as the first step in determining need-based assistance. However, be sure to always check with each school you’re applying to for their specific requirements. Submitting your application early is important, because a lot of schools distribute need-based financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

Even though FAFSA asks you to complete information from this year’s tax return, there is no reason to wait until you’ve filed your taxes to submit the FAFSA. Instead, simply use reasonable estimates and remember that you can update the information once you file your taxes.

You can submit your FAFSA either online or in print. To complete your application online, visit the official FAFSA website at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. This website should be able to answer any questions you might have. We can’t emphasize enough the need to make sure you go to this official site. Some other sites may try to charge you to apply for financial aid or find scholarships. The FAFSA is free, so don’t let yourself get fooled.

Given the rising costs of graduate school, make sure you give yourself the best possible chance for all the financial aid you deserve!

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