Thursday, January 15, 2009

It is FAFSA Time!

Hello World Family,
It's Falcon here. Parents and college age students and high school seniors...
it' the fun time of year we have all been waiting for...
FAFSA time!!! Yeah!

Okay, yes, I know it is about as much fun as dental surgery sans anesthesia, but hey, you need to do it. This is the form that determines your teen's eligibility for federal grant money...FREE MONEY!!! Now do you feel better?

IF this is your first time...
You need to go to the FAFSA website:

This is the only official FAFSA website! Be careful. Don't give your personal information out to anyone else!

You must apply for a PIN number parents. Students, you have to do the same. It is a different number. Don't share your numbers!!! The feds will send you a confirmation email in a few days, then you can apply online. Parents, you apply. Students, you apply. Separately.

Why is this so important?

The FAFSA application determines your eligibility for federal grant money, which also determines your federal eligibility for federal loans. Remember, we want to avoid private loans at all costs, because their interest rates can be raised at any time during the life of your arrangement, and can never be disposed of unless you pay them off entirely. Bankruptcy will not dispose of private student loans, they will stay with you to the use them sparingly, if at all.

Secondly, the application for the FAFSA determines the EFC (Estimated Family Contribution)...translation, what you pay. This EFC is not only used for government grant and loan eligibility, but many, many scholarship programs that grant based on need use this EFC number to determine how much money they will give your aspiring college student, should they select them for a scholarship.

Without this filing, you child may not get federal aid, or many scholarships.

I know, the form is scary. Very. Guess what? There is help!

Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 1-319-337-5665. If you are hearing-impaired and have questions, contact the TTY line at 1-800-730-8913.

There are very nice people there who are patient and know their job well. They will be happy to help parents or students with the form. Make a mistake, don't freak out! Call them, and they can pull up the form, and help you make corrections. You can copy the form after completion. I suggest you make several copies, and put them in very safe places. You may need this information when talking to the university your teen attends, or with the universities that your child is considering attending.

Many schools have need-based aid and they determine the amount they give students based on the information in the FAFSA. Many funding streams depend on this information. Make it easy on yourselves and do this form now!!!

More students than ever will be looking for more money than ever this year. If a school runs out of their allotment of funding, your student could miss out. Do the form early and make sure your child gets all the funding they deserve. This saves them from literally thousands of dollars of debt now and later on.

Know your social security number. If you don't have one, get one at your local social security office. This is a busy experience, but not hard.

Have your tax forms from the previous year, or current year if you have already done your taxes. You can always update your report online. Go with last year's information for now, and update it with a few clicks later.

If your financial situation has changed in the extreme in the last few months (because you were laid off or a company closed, etc.) TELL THE UNIVERSITY YOUR CHILD ATTENDS!!!

Your family won't be the only one impacted by this economic crisis. The earlier the parents and student sit down with their financial aid officer, the better the chance of additional funding to help fill the gaps. Please, don't be afraid to ask. There is nothing wrong with asking for a little help. We are all in this together.

Although there is rarely federal money available at the undergraduate level, there is a lot of money at certain universities for the foreign student. If you have a list of universities that you are considering, be bold and contact the financial aid offices of each about what kind of funding is available for international students. Many schools have merit money scholarships for students from abroad. Just ask, they will probably provide a link. Do the applications as soon as possible, even if you are not sure if that is the school you are going to attend. When acceptances come in, you will have to decide which institution is best for you by teaching excellence, career services, and by aid. They are competing for you, not just you to get in.
Make sure you have all your options in place so that you can make the best decision for yourself.

Let's get started, students and parents. It is going to be a real horse race this year.

Stay focused, and don't get frustrated. Take your time on the form. It will take a bit of time your first time at bat. Be patient with yourself and your teen. Make an appointment on your calendar and DO IT!!!

Good luck!

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