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How to Get the Most Financial Aid

Filling out the FAFSA
Student loans can help tie up any loose ends.
Student loans can help tie up any loose ends.
© 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Once future students have waded through the first steps and explored the arena of potential grants, scholarships and the like, it's time to hit up other big sources of financial aid. The first step is filling out an online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. If students plan to start school in the fall of 2010, for example, they can begin filing their FAFSA forms starting anytime after Jan. 1, 2010 -- ideally after their 2009 taxes are complete -- and the cutoff isn't until June 30, 2011.

But don't think that means it's a good idea to procrastinate. FAFSA reports aren't just used to determine federal grants, work-studies and loans. Most states, schools and even many private scholarship organizations want to see FAFSA forms, too, and their deadlines are rarely so lenient. For prospective students looking to make sure they take full advantage of funds, there's no dawdling on FAFSAs.

The essential purpose of FAFSA forms is to determine families' EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. Once the forms are processed, students work with their schools' financial aid administrators to discuss financial aid packages (including potential school, state and federal assistance) to help them meet all the upcoming expenses that fall above their EFC. Keep in mind though, state governments and school financial aid offices may also require additional forms beyond the FAFSA before they award financial aid, so it's important to do an early investigation of those avenues, or students may find themselves scrambling to collect everything they need to qualify in time.

For more information about preparing for a secondary education, pay a visit to the links on the next page.