When my children were seniors, I think the prospect of filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form was, for me, more daunting than how they felt about filling out their college applications.

Fortunately, the process has become much easier.   It can be started earlier and done online.  The process begins with the student, who applies for him or herself.  Parents become involved if the student is a dependent—at that point, parental income and tax information come into play along with the student’s own information.  If the student is independent, he or she can complete the FAFSA without any information from parents.

FAFSA Benefits

Students from affluent families may wonder if it is worth the time and effort to complete the FAFSA.  The answer is yes.  Colleges are competing for a smaller pool of applicants.  The amount of financial aid given to students in the form of grants, loans and work-study is significant.  With financial aid, a private school can sometimes end up at about the same cost as a public institution; students therefore gain additional options for their education.

The FAFSA puts students in a position to receive federal student aid, which is preferable to private loans.  The interest rates are generally lower and repayment terms are more favorable.  It may also be required for a student to qualify for other types of aid or awards through the college or state.  Watch the video below for more information about the application process.

When to Apply

The FAFSA for the 2018-2019 school year will be available October 1, 2017 at www.FAFSA.gov. Many schools want financial aid information early.  For example, last year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison FAFSA Priority deadline was December 1, 2016 for the 2017-2018 school year.  Students can check with the schools they are interested in to find out the deadlines, which may be as late as March or April 2018 for regular admissions.

Students may be overwhelmed completing college applications but be sure completion of the FAFSA is near the top of their list.  According to several sources, it takes less than half an hour to complete if you have all your information at hand when you start.  There are videos and lots of help available as you complete the process, so move forward and get this task out of the way early!