Student Tribune

Tell your students: The sooner you apply for financial aid the better

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, and the resulting Student Aid Report (SAR) help college financial aid officers determine student’s eligibility for federal financial aid programs such as Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and federal work-study. It’s also the basis for determining eligibility for other state and college-based scholarships and aid programs.

Here are a few tips to facilitate the financial aid application process:

Plan to complete the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) online. It's faster, easier and more accurate than the paper version. To complete the FAFSA on line go to

Prepare your federal income taxes early. Be sure to have your parents prepare their taxes early, too. Much of the financial information required on the FAFSA comes from your federal tax form.

Get a PIN now. To apply for federal financial aid electronically, you and your parents must get a Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Number (PIN) at The U.S. Department of Education will e-mail the PIN to you if you provide an e-mail address, otherwise you will receive it by mail in about a week. You will use the PIN to "sign" your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) electronically.

File a FAFSA, even if you filed one last year. You are required to complete a FAFSA every academic year you attend college if you want aid. The online FAFSA will remember you from previous applications, so you will need only to provide updated information.

Keep your PIN and passwords in a safe place. Your PIN is as important as your bank PIN. Don’t share it with anyone.

Remember, when the FAFSA refers to “you,” or “your,” it means, you, the student, NOT your parents or family.

Make sure to use your legal name, as shown on your Social Security card. Enter your Social Security number (SSN) carefully. An incorrect SSN may delay your application – and you may miss important deadlines for financial aid. To correct an error, you may have to submit copies of your birth certificate and Social Security card before your FAFSA can be processed.

Read every question carefully and complete every field according to the instructions on the FAFSA. The computer often reads a blank as an error. The online form uses “skip logic” to help you avoid answering unnecessary questions.

Answer “both” to the questions asking about your interest in different types of federal aid, such as work-study. You won’t be able to go back and ask for federal work-study later. You won’t be obligated to accept offers you don’t want, and answering “no” will not afford additional grant money.

Count yourself, the student, as one of the people in your family who will be college students during the award year.

Save your online work frequently in case you need to leave your computer for any reason. You can resume the online session later.

Look for the New York link on the confirmation page. You may be eligible for additional state student aid such as the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) or other assistance. New York residents will automatically be brought to the application by selecting the link from the FAFSA confirmation page.

Make copies of your online signature page for both yourself and your parents.

Review the Student Aid Report (SAR) carefully. The SAR will be e-mailed to you after the FAFSA has been processed. This information is also sent to the colleges you noted on the FAFSA. Make sure the SAR doesn’t indicate any problems such as missing signatures or contain incorrect financial information. Check your name and Social Security number carefully. You can make any necessary corrections to the FAFSA at the FAFSA Web site, however correcting your name or Social Security number may require additional information.

Remember, the first word in FAFSA is “Free,” so beware of anyone charging you to file the FAFSA for you. There is no “secret” method of filling out the FAFSA to qualify for more aid, nor do you have to pay to file it. Many schools and libraries offer free workshops and help in completing the FAFSA, should you need it.

The Federal Student Aid Information Center provides a free hotline, 1-800-4 FED-AID (1-800-433-3243 or TDD 1-800-730-8913) for questions about federal student aid, including questions about completing the FAFSA. The hotline and Web site are operated by the U.S. Department of Education, so these sources can provide definitive answers to questions about federal student aid and filing procedures.

The FAFSA is your key to federal student financial aid, so file as soon as possible and take advantage of the maximum federal funding for which you qualify.

Ramon L. Rodriguez
Financial Aid