Paying for College

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The rising cost of a college education is daunting for most families. Below are some helpful links and tips to help you navigate the process.

Apply for Federal Financial Aid

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the application you complete to qualify for all federal grants and loans. You may submit the FAFSA as early as January of your senior year of high school. Keep in mind that many colleges have a March deadline for FAFSA completion – the early bird gets the worm.

The application is available at www.fafsa.gov.  Georgia residents may access the site through their GACollege411.com account.

Some helpful hints for completing the FASFA:

Gather all your documents beforehand (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/before003.htm) Remember you will be using the previous year’s income information. So if you’re completing the FAFSA in 2011, you’ll use 2010 information.

If your family’s financial situation is different for the current year from the previous year (loss of job, medical expenses, etc), then contact your college’s financial aid office immediately. They might take your situation into consideration and adjust your FAFSA information accordingly. Every college handles these situations differently, so make sure that you communicate with each one.

The FAFSA asks for your parents’ financial information (along with your own). If your parents are divorced or separated, the general rule is to use the information for the parent with whom you live at least 51% of the time.

Keep in mind that you can only use your legal parent’s information. A grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle is not considered a parent unless they have legally adopted you. If you have a problem with completing the FAFSA because of your family’s circumstances, contact your college’s financial aid office or I can try to help you navigate the process (link to my info).

When the FAFSA is completed, the information will go to the financial aid offices of the colleges you indicate on the application. The financial aid office will calculate your financial aid package based on these results. Often, colleges require their own financial aid forms too. Don’t forget to complete all necessary documents for your college. Applying late might hurt your chances for an optimal financial aid package.

***For more assistance with your FAFSA and financial aid questions, check out this helpful site:http://www.bestcolleges.com/financial-aid/