By: Ken Austin
For any student hoping to attend college in the coming year, the first place you need to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid that is commonly referred to as FAFSA.
The earlier you fill out this form the better as far as your chances of receiving the full amount of financial aid that is available to you as well as to clear up and fix any potential problems that may arise well ahead of the deadline for aid being awarded.
The final date for application changes from year to year and is generally somewhere near the beginning of summer. Earlier is much better than later as far too many students wait until closer to deadline in order to fill out their forms and if you have any questions you are likely to find yourself standing in or calling into longer lines for your answers.
There are a few things you need to know about the FAFSA. Most schools require this form to have been filled out before they will award any financial aid, not just federal financial aid. In other words you should check with your school but you may need to fill out this form even if you are only applying for departmental scholarships and not federal financial aid. It is a good idea to begin at the financial aid office of the institution you plan to attend at any rate to make sure they do not have additional forms that they require you fill out in order to apply with financial aid through the university or college as well as the federal government.
Another thing you need to be well aware of is that you will need to fill out one of these forms for each year that you hope to receive financial aid of any kind. This is not something that is automatically renewed or guaranteed. There are many changes that could affect the amount of money you are eligible to receive as well as whether or not you are eligible to receive federal funds at all on any given academic year. For this reason you must apply for aid for each year that you attend.
Another thing that you must remember is that while a subsidized student loan doesn't been to accrue interest until you graduate or cease to be enrolled for the required hours, an unsubsidized student loan begin accruing interest from day one. This means that you will owe a substantial amount of money in interest upon graduation if you take out an unsubsidized student loan in order to pay for educational expenses.
Student loans make college educations possible for many people who would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend college. At the same time there are many people, who neglect to use these loans responsibly, which is the beginning of irresponsible spending habits that can plague people for the remainder of their lives. Take great caution that you use your student loans for their intended purpose and use them wisely.
The FAFSA also enables you to apply for Federal Pell Grants and Federal Work Study programs in addition to student loans. Of the three mentioned above, student loans should be a last resort rather than a first. The amount of money available can prove to be quite tempting so be very careful and read all the terms before signing up for any and all financial aid. Your high school, college financial aid office, and the Internet are all excellent sources for information on scholarships, grants, loans, and work study programs for which you may qualify.