If you're a United States citizen or eligible noncitizen and you're planning to go to a college, university or trade school, you've probably heard of or read about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) [source: U.S. Department of Education]. It's the only way to get all of the financial assistance you qualify for from your prospective schools, state and the U.S. government. Not only that, a completed FAFSA is required by your school's financial aid office. Although the FAFSA application process may seem arduous, it can make the difference between attending the school you have your heart set on or delaying your education altogether until you've gathered sufficient funds to pay for it outright.
Before we move forward, there are a few other things you should know. Every year, half of all U.S. college students unknowingly pass up on financial aid simply because they don't apply for it [source: Kristof]. Some of them think their household income is too high to qualify for financial help. Others may have savings or other assets and assume these funds disqualify them from scholarships, grants or loans. There are also students who think they won't be able to afford pricier private colleges and universities and avoid applying to them-- but these institutions actually may provide more financial aid than some junior colleges and state schools. Another misconception among students is that they need to have filed the prior year's Federal Income Tax return form, or 1040, in order to apply for student aid.
While these are several misconceptions about student aid, one thing's for sure: In addition to completing the FAFSA as early as possible, it's crucial that you follow up on it diligently and expediently. Not doing so can crush your plans for getting the education you're depending on.
In this article, you'll learn how to monitor the progress of your FAFSA. You'll discover the benefits of timely follow-up, as well. Move on to the next section to learn about the application process and exactly what's involved in FAFSA follow-up.