Many students are overwhelmed by the steps involved in the application for student loans. But it's really quite easy, assuming you've done a bit of preparation in advance. Start by creating a personal identification number (PIN) at www.pin.ed.gov - you'll use this PIN throughout the process of applying for and repaying your student loans. Then, visit www.FAFSA.ed.gov to download a list of all the documents you will need in completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Gathering these documents may take a bit of time, so do this as early as possible.
You can submit your FAFSA any time between January and June for loans to be distributed in the fall semester, but do so as early as possible. State and school-specific deadlines are often much earlier. Note that it's possible to send your FAFSA by mail, but applying online is faster and easier. Once you hit "submit," you will receive a confirmation number, indicating your application was successfully submitted.
Shortly after receiving and processing your FAFSA -- this usually only takes a few days -- the U.S. Department of Education will send you a Student Aid Report (SAR). Look in the top right corner of your SAR for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This number is very important -- it determines the type and amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive.
Having your SAR gives you a good indication of how much aid you can receive, but it does not tell you the exact amount that can be borrowed or what proportion of your loans, if any, can be subsidized. Each school uses your SAR to determine your specific aid package based on factors such as your grade level, the cost of attending that particular school and any special financial circumstances you may have. The details of your financial aid package for each school you've applied to will be sent to you as a Financial Aid Award Notice shortly after your SAR arrives.
It is very important to review your award notices from different schools to determine the best option for financing your education. Also, be sure that your SAR lists every school that you are applying to and that all information is correct. If there are errors, correct them right away online. Any delays can slow down the processing of your student loans.
At this point in the process, there's only one thing standing between you and your loan money. Keep reading to find out what it is.