The FAFSA Form

True mastery of the financial aid application process begins with an understanding of the FAFSA form. The FAFSA is your typical federal form: a lumbering, flawed giant filled with threatening and confusing language. Many students don’t apply for aid because they think the form is too complicated, too imposing, or too unfair, and many families don’t complete the FAFSA because they believe they’re too wealthy to qualify for aid. Both of these decisions are almost always mistakes. Don’t let the form intimidate you. It’s become easier to complete in recent years, with more free, online resources than ever before.

Remember that the FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid! One of the best resources for helping you complete the FAFSA is the Department of Education’s own student Web site, www.studentaid.ed.gov. There is also a free resource known as the Federal Student Aid Information center, which you can reach toll-free at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Many Web sites (www.fafsa.com, for example) are actually operated by fee-based companies. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to pay for such a service.

Student Aid Report (SAR)

Once you’ve completed and submitted the FAFSA, the Department of Education will calculate your EFC and send it to you in a SAR. If you completed the hard copy of the FAFSA, a paper version of the SAR will arrive in the mail anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks after submission. If you filed electronically at www.fafsa.ed.gov, you’ll be able to download an electronic copy of your SAR as soon as two weeks after filing.

Because the SAR provides you with your EFC, it’s important to receive this information as soon as possible. Your EFC tells you whether or not you’re eligible for certain kinds of financial aid, such as the Pell Grant, and it’s also the number that will help determine your overall need.

Time is of the essence, so we recommend filing your FAFSA electronically, if possible. It’s free, it’s much faster than filing a paper FAFSA, and it’s a great opportunity to visit one of the few Web sites left with virtually no pop-ups.

Note: to file your FAFSA and get your SAR online, you’ll need to provide an electronic signature by registering for a Personal Identification Number (PIN). You’ll find information on how to do this on the Web site www.fafsa.ed.gov.

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