This is a guest post by Nicole Harris. You can also write about financing for college.

I used to think that getting ready for college would be easy, and that actually taking classes and learning would be the more challenging part. Getting ready wasn't really hard, but it was more complicated than I thought it would be. Everyone but me seemed to know all about financial aid and filling out forms and getting money for college. I was thrown into the deep sea of getting financial aid with very few lessons on how to stay afloat. If you find yourself in the same boat, one of the life rafts you can grab onto is the Free Application for Federal Student  (FAFSA). If you make it your new BFF, you'll be able to get money to pay for college and you might not have to pay all of it back. You have to do it quickly, though, because deadlines are looming. You'll also want to beat out everybody else trying to get help paying for their college educations.  

Why You Need a FAFSA

As annoying as it is to fill out, the FAFSA can open the door to federal money programs for college students. It's also a requirement with applications for certain college scholarships. Most schools use it to decide who needs money and how much each person gets. Think of the FAFSA as the electronic version of sticking your hand out for help and getting money for college.  

It's FAFSA Season

Now that the holidays are over and the new year has begun, it's FAFSA season. The forms for getting college money in 2014 are due now. Each state has different deadlines, so you'll need to figure out what your application deadline is based on where you live. Do it as soon as possible, too, because the first day you could turn it in for the upcoming fall semester's financial aid was January 1. You can use it for federal programs, but also for college scholarships. It's first-come-first-serve, so get in line now.  

Watch Your Timelines

Pay attention to the timelines for your school's class registration. There is a very small window between when you register for class and when you have to have your tuition paid. If your financial aid doesn't come through in time, you will lose your seat and you'll have to re-do your class registration all over again. 


You need a lot of information to fill out your FAFSA forms. Here are some tips to make the process go more smoothly. 

  • You can do it online if you have computer access. There are paper forms available, but they take a lot longer.
  • You'll need some financial details from your parents. Are they claiming you as a dependent on their taxes? That will have a huge impact on how much money you can get for grants, student loans and even some college scholarships. 
  • Be prepared for delays from all directions, and don't wait until the last minute. Your parents might be shy about handing over their financial information to you. They also might be disorganized and need time to get it together. You can download some of their tax filing information from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but you'll need their help to do it. 
  • Make sure that you fill out the information fully and clearly. If you don't, the agency will keep coming back with things you need until everything is in order. 
  • Don't lie on your FAFSA form or on college scholarship and financial aid applications. It may take a while for the PTBs to figure it out, but they will catch up to you eventually and make your life more difficult.
  • Don't lose your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Put it in a safe place and don't forget where it is. You'll need it every year to update your information and renew your application. If you lose it, you'll have more delays in your timeline.  

Think of your FAFSA form as your BFF. It's a pipeline to money. The more money you get through various financial aid programs, the less you will have to take out in student loans. The less money you borrow, the faster you can pay it back. The faster you pay it back, the more comfortably you can live after you graduate from school. 

Nicole is an independent writer for College Answer offers information on saving, planning and paying for college.

If you'd also like to contribute, you can submit a guest post.

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