The pile of pre-college paperwork can be daunting for students and parents looking at higher education.
College applications, financial aid, agreements and promissory notes — it builds up fast and deep, and may seem daunting to people just starting the process.
One of the most important pieces of paperwork for prospective college students is FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. People can start applying Oct. 1.
With the dizzying pace that surrounds students finishing up with high school, it may leave parents asking why the form is so important.
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1. It’s the only way to know if you qualify.
Federal sources offer college students more than $150 billion in student aid, including grants, loans and work-study funds.
Those federal loans generally carry far less interest than a bank loan, said Jordyn Creighton, WSU Tri-Cities student financial and support services manager.
Even if a student and parents don’t immediately qualify for federal financial aid, having the form on file is handy in case the financial situation changes, Creighton said.
Financial aid is not limited only to students with good grades, or to students of certain ethnicity or ages, the Department of education said.
2. It’s free — and paid people help you with it.
From the application and beyond, there’s no cost to filling out the paperwork and turning it in.
The government — local, state and federal — even pays people to help you fill it out.
Students can look for help from counselors or a college-readiness program at their school.
The GEAR UP program, which aims to help prepare students for college, has offices in each of the high schools, and it holds events explaining how to finish the form.
If you can’t get hold of someone there, swing by the financial aid offices at Columbia Basin College or WSU Tri-Cities to learn more about the form.
If you’re game to do it yourself, just go to fafsa.ed.gov.
No internet connection? Creighton recommends the public library.
3. It’s easy.
The forms are easier than ever and normally take about 30 minutes to finish, the Department of Education said.
There are some things anyone applying for financial aid should know, Creighton said.
The deadline to turn in the form depends on the schools a student is applying to, and should be finished at the same time as applying. Students can add up to 10 schools on the form depending on where they’re applying.
Until a student reaches 24, they are considered a dependent unless they served in the military, are married, have been legally separated from their parents or meet one of a limited number of requirements. A full list of exemptions is available at studentaid.gov/dependency.
4. There is a different form for people who are not citizens.
The FAFSA isn’t the right form for everyone.
If a person is going to college through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, they need to use the Washington-specific application for financial aid, called the WASFA, the Washington Application for State Finanical Aid.