Here's what you need to know:
1. Everyone can and should apply for aid
2. There are some shortcuts
The FAFSA is notorious for being confusing, especially when it comes to filling out financial info.
"For example, students applying for financial aid for the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, the tax year with which the FAFSA will assess their need is 2017," Haggerty says. So that means that if you're getting ready to apply for the next school year, the info you need to supply is for the last tax year.
If you want to save time and effort, FAFSA offers an option to use what's called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This tool collects parents’ and/or students’ tax figures and pre-fills them into the FAFSA. "This helps to mitigate errors," Haggerty says.
Also? It can save you a ton of time.
3. The deadlines are critical
One of the biggest things to remember as a first-time financial aid applicant is to meet all the required deadlines, Haggerty says. Otherwise, you could miss out on money you'd otherwise be qualified to receive.
"Students may be applying for many schools at once, each with their own set of requirements and deadlines, not only for admission, but separately perhaps for financial aid as well," he says. "Many colleges and even the Department of Education, as well as state financial aid funding agencies, base their budgets for financial aid funding around these deadlines and may run out of this funding after so much time, so it is important to pay very careful attention to all deadlines, as tedious as it may be."
You can check the state and federal deadlines for financial aid at fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm. Don't forget to check with the schools you're applying to as well.
Make sticky notes, add calendar reminders on your phone or laptop, or add dates to your college app checklist — whatever you can do to make sure you get your applications in on time.