Filling out a financial aid application is critical for people who want financial assistance with college, and it doesn't have to be a grueling or unpleasant process for students who plan ahead and pull their supporting documents together before it's time to fill out the application. It's also important to remember that most colleges accept general financial aid applications, which means that students can fill out one big form and submit it to multiple schools. Most forms can also be filled out online, which can save time.
The first thing that students who want to apply for financial aid should do is to find out what the financial aid application deadline for their school or program is. The financial aid office should be able to provide this information over the phone or on their website. In addition to determining the deadline, students should find out which types of documents will be requested. Many financial aid offices will ask for a generic form such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) along with copies of the student's and parents' tax returns. Some schools also have a shorter supplementary financial aid form which they ask people to fill out.
If the college offers scholarships, and most do, some of these scholarships may have deadlines which are different than the general financial aid deadline, and they may also require special application materials. Students are encouraged to apply for any and all scholarships for which they even vaguely qualify, as scholarships and grants are preferable to taking out student loans. They should also take advantage of community scholarships and scholarships from other sources.
Some documents which students should have handy when filling out a financial aid application are: copies of their tax returns and other tax documents, copies of their parents' taxes, recent bank statements and other financial statements, and a complete listing of any assets they may have, such as cars, shares in a trust, real estate, and so forth. If students or their parents have received welfare and other forms of financial assistance including alimony or child support, documentation about this should be available as well. Essentially, anything involving the student's or parents' finances should be pulled together. Students with divorced parents only need to use the information from their custodial parent.
It is also a good idea to sit down and come up with an estimate of how much money the student and parents expect to earn in the coming year. Students may also want to find out how much money members of the family may be contributing, as some financial aid forms ask for this information, and to estimate sources of benefit income such as child support for the coming year. It can help to glance at the forms which will be filled out to get an idea of the kinds of questions that will be asked on a financial aid application so that students can prepare.
Some students like filling out a financial aid application with their parents, although this is certainly not necessary. However, random questions may come up which could be quickly answered by parents if they are around while students are working on the form. It is also a good idea to set aside half an hour or 45 minutes for filling out financial aid applications so that they can all be done at once, especially if students need to fill out multiple supplementary forms which all ask similar questions.