Applying for federal student loans is good way to help finance your education. The process can take a while, but being prepared and knowing what to expect can help you navigate the process more easily.
Applying for Federal Student LoansIn order to receive federal student loans, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application forms can be completed on paper and mailed in, or they can now be completed online at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov . Here are a few things to keep in mind when you go to apply for student loans.
- Know your timeline. To get federal student loans you should complete the FAFSA the spring before the fall semester in which you intend to enroll in a college or a university. You should not apply for federal student loans any earlier than that, such as during your junior year of high school, because your financial information may change and you will not actually be attending a college program the following fall. When completing your FAFSA, it is not necessary to be certain of which school you will be attending, though you may need to know which schools to which you applied and their school code.
- Get your PIN. When completing the FAFSA, it is helpful to get a PIN, or Personal Identification Number. Your PIN will help you access your information online at the U.S. Department of Education website. You will also be able to use your PIN as a signature when completing forms online. Your PIN can expedite the processing of your application for federal student loans for the duration of your education, so be sure that you can remember it or keep it in a safe place. Also remember that your PIN is personal and should not be shared with anyone.
- Have tax information handy. On the FAFSA forms, you will also need to submit some tax information as well as other financial data that is critical to calculating how much you can get in federal student loans. If your taxes or your parents’ taxes are not complete when you submit the FAFSA, so you can use last year’s information for an estimate. If your taxes are complete, you should keep that information handy so you can use it on your FAFSA. You and your parents will also be asked questions on the form about income and other dependents in your household.
Understanding the FAFSA
Once you get all of your personal information submitted, you will be one step closer to getting your degree. If you have filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, you may have some questions about what happens next.
If you chose to submit your FAFSA electronically, your information will be sent to the Department of Education. The Department of Education will then process the information you provided to determine your Student Aid Report, or SAR. Your Student Aid Report will contain your preliminary Expected Family Contribution or EFC. This number is determined by making some calculations from your family’s income, expenses and assets and it is what your family will be expected to pay toward your college education.
When you filled out your FAFSA, you were required to designate some schools to receive your information. The Department of Education will send both you and the schools you listed your Student Aid Report, Each school will examine your EFC to determine your family contribution and how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
Depending on what kind of admission schedule the schools which you applied to have, you could get your financial aid award letter as late as spring of your senior year. From the information you receive you will need to decide which school to go to, as well as your best options for paying for your education. You may be able to pull off paying for your degree with your savings and the grants and scholarships you received. If, however, you come up short, you and/or your parents may need to take out student loans. If student loans are the way to go for your particular situation, make sure you shop around for the best interest rates and repayment options so that your decision is one that you can manage after you finish your degree.
When you are filling out your FAFSA or you are going over any information that has been sent to you, remember that if you don’t understand something, you can get help for free. Visit the official FAFSA website or call 1-800-4-FED-AID. There are also websites that can help you navigate the federal student loan application process, but you should not use a service that requires you to pay.