Applying for Federal Student Aid

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If you need help paying for school, you're not alone. In fact, in the 2007-08 academic year, 66 percent of all undergraduates received at least some type of financial aid, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Applying for federal student aid is a pretty straightforward process, but it does involve a bit of preparation on your part. Here we'll discuss how to apply.

All students applying for federal aid must fill out an application online called the FAFSA, which is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The key word here is that it's free to fill out the application. Beware of any copycat sites that claim to help you fill out the FAFSA for a fee and double check that the website you are using ends in .gov instead of .com just to be safe.

Filling out the FAFSA online is simple and straightforward process and you will be assisted by a built-in guide that will help you supply the correct information on the application. You will be asked to supply important information about yourself, including your name, age, address, social security number, your earnings, parental earnings and the name of the colleges and universities you want the FAFSA sent to. If you have any trouble at all filling out your FAFSA, you can use the contact information available on the FAFSA website to get help from a customer service representative via secure live chat or by calling a toll-free number.

The FAFSA asks for your parents' earnings if you are a dependent because the FAFSA is designed with a formula in mind to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount you and your parents should be able to contribute toward your higher education. Therefore you'll need the previous year's tax information for both yourself and your parents. When you complete the application, you have the option to apply for a PIN to affix an electronic signature to your completed FAFSA. This is the fastest way to sign your application. After you've filled out and submitted your FAFSA, you should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) via e-mail a few days later that reveals your EFC.

Once your information has been sent to the schools you listed, you will receive information on the available financial aid packages from the schools themselves.

Finally, if you're not quite ready to fill out the FAFSA, but you still want to find out how much aid you'd be eligible for, you can always use the FAFSA 4caster tool to get an estimate of how much aid you can get to help pay for college.

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