FAFSA Your Free Application for Federal Student Aid
Congratulations! Spring semester is over and you’ve crossed the finish line. Enjoy your well-earned rest, but don’t put school completely out of your mind. Summer is a great time to look ahead and prepare for fall, and the next few months offer the perfect opportunities to determine what you’ll need to succeed.
1. “FAFSA, FAFSA, FAFSA!”
It all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Colleges and universities use the FAFSA form to determine how much federal aid you may qualify to receive. The form becomes available every year on October 1, but there’s a lot that this form will ask from you and your parents, such as household finances and tax information. Best to get your ducks in a row early and be ready as soon as this year’s form becomes available.
You’ll first want to create an account at the Federal Student Aid office’s website and get an FSA ID number. You’ll need this to start your FAFSA form, which you can access here. Deadlines differ between the federal FAFSA office, state agencies, and individual schools, so check for your due dates early. Your school’s financial aid office can help you find these deadlines.
You’ll only need to create the FAFSA form once. The FAFSA home page gives you the option to renew your form once you log in. This will retain most of the personal–but not financial–information you provided when you first applied.
2. Finding Scholarships
Summer jobs are great for extra cash, but paying for tuition, housing, food, and books can turn your financial life upside down. There are thousands of scholarships available, if you know where to find them.
Think scholarships are based solely on your high school grades? Think again! Many scholarships have eligibility requirements that can range from ethnicity to gender to merely the state where you live. Several sites offer free and easy search tools to find scholarships you never knew existed, searchable by eligibility:
No matter what the criteria are, the most important thing to remember is that most scholarships are competitive, meaning hundreds if not thousands of other students are applying to the same scholarships you are. When applying, be sure to answer all questions completely, and above, submit your application well before the deadline!
3. Create a Budget and Stick to It!
Whether you’ll be working while attending classes or receiving a monthly stipend from home, knowing how much you have available to spend can spare you several headaches and even tight spots.
If the word “budget” scares you, it’s time to conquer that fear. Creating a budget is simple in addition to being incredibly helpful. Start with totaling your monthly earnings or spending money. Review your calendar for each semester’s “big events” where you might want to buy an extra snack or sweatshirt and reserve some of your money for those occasions.
Next, price out how you’ll most likely be spending your time and money in the off-hours. Consider what a typical weekend will look like for you. If your default plans include game rooms or bowling alleys or pizza places, find the price list on your destination’s website or menu. “Predicting” what a night out will cost you is the best way to stay on budget and avoid sticker shock when you’re out with friends (of course, studying in the library is always free!).
Ultimately, a budget means nothing if you don’t stick to it. The unexpected will inevitably occur at some point, so try to leave yourself a cushion of “emergency money.” Budgeting doesn’t mean having to spend down all your money each month. Save as much as you can whenever you can; building a reserve fund is the best way to mitigate or avoid financial dire straits.
As always, be sure to contact the Financial Aid Office well before the end of the semester to ensure you are utilizing all financial aid available to you. Contact us at [email protected] and schedule your appointment today!