You spent years considering what college you wanted to attend, and you've even given careful consideration on what you will major in. You thought you had everything together until you started to research tuition, room and board and other education costs. Now you have to tackle the issue of how you're going to pay for your education. If your family is unable to cover these costs for you, completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is likely your next step.
While the application is pretty self-explanatory, don't make the mistake of assuming the application is only for federal college funding sources. The FAFSA puts you in line for both federal and institution-specific funding programs. An important thing to remember about institution-specific programs is that they often have caps or limits for funding dollars or students.
For example, a college might only have a work study program available for 100 students per school year. For this reason, it's imperative that you complete your application early. As the saying says, the early bird gets the worm. When you complete your FAFSA early, you can be considered for institution-specific programs long before they reach their caps. Ideally, you should be completing your FAFSA application at the same time you're completing your college applications.
Some people are unaware that you can actually appeal the award package you receive after completing the FAFSA. The application has a number of different questions, but it still only offers the school a glimpse of your life circumstances. Contact the financial aid department and tell them how grateful you are for the awards that were offered to you, but explain in detail why the package isn't going to fully fund your education.
Take a student who has a terminally ill parent who happens to have a large savings account, for example. Based on the application, the school is only able to see that the parent has a large sum of money in the bank, not that the savings account is being used to pay for medical treatments. In this case, speaking with someone from the school directly might offer a different outcome.
FAFSA is one of the most important steps in the college funding process. Make sure you are taking your time when completing the application to avoid mistakes and get the most out of your application. Remember, your education could depend on it.