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To receive student financial aid, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form must be filled out every school year. Both undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. must do so to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants. You can electronically submit the FAFSA. Learn more below.
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• The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

FAFSA is a federal form you must fill out to qualify for federal student financial assistance programs. Many states require it. It is also the starting point for most private student financial aid. Schools use the FAFSA as part of their application process. The FAFSA is a comprehensive form requiring extensive information. Be prepared to provide extensive information about your family's income and income taxes from the previous year, assets, family size, the number of family members attending college, and more. The 2012-2013 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be submitted after January 1, 2012. The student loan application became available in November.

To maximize your chances of getting student financial aid, submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 for the year you plan to start college. If you apply before January 1 your application will not be processed.

High school seniors in the last semester of school must fill out a FAFSA to determine eligibility for financial aid.

While a FAFSA can be filed for free, many people choose to use a FAFSA preparer. Getting professional help will assure, through a review, that no mistakes were made. FAFSA service agencies also provide personal advice and consultation that is well worth the cost.

 
• FAFSA FAQs

I didn't submit my FAFSA in January. Are there any penalties?
A FAFSA form should be submitted as soon as possible after January 1. Most schools' deadlines are well in advance of the corresponding state and federal deadlines. And many colleges award aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

Do I need a Social Security number?
Yes. It is required to be eligible for federal student financial aid. A FAFSA application will be returned to you unprocessed without a SSN.

Should I wait until income taxes are done?
No. It is okay to use estimates of income as long as they are not far from the actual tax return submitted to the government. Most states require the FAFSA to be submitted by March 1 and some even as early as the first two weeks of February.

If my parents are divorced, whose tax and salary info should I use?
You should probably use the information from the parent you lived with for the majority of the previous 12 months. If you are a dependent student and your parent is remarried, your step-parent's information must be included.

I live with someone other than my parents? What should I report?
Report any cash support provided as untaxed income. You do not have to report in-kind support such as food.

Is a new FAFSA required to be filed every year?
If student financial aid was applied for the previous year, you may not have to complete an entirely new FAFSA. A Renewal FAFSA is available. With a Renewal FAFSA, only new financial data and changed non-financial information must be completed.

What should I answer for the question asking if I am interested in student loans?
Answer yes. Otherwise, you are limiting your options. Most students do take out the student loans included in their financial aid award. There is no obligation to accept any student aid offered.

 
• The Advanced Placement Program (AP)

The Advanced Placement Program is designed to allow high school students to pursue college-level studies while attending high school. Students earn college credit for courses taken in high school. Most tests are from two to three hours in length. In 2006, over one million students took over two million Advanced Placement examinations. There are over 3,600 schools that participate in this program.

Taking the AP tests demonstrate maturity and readiness for college. The better students perform on the exams, the more likely they are to be courted by colleges. Those who take the tests stand out in the admissions process. Over 90% of 4-year colleges in the U.S. provide credit and/or advanced placement for qualifying scores. In addition, AP helps students qualify for scholarships. Thirty-one percent of colleges and universities look at AP experience when determining scholarships.

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