Tips + Best Practices for Completing Your FAFSA

Tips + Best Practices for Completing Your FAFSA

Rachael Tulipano

Did you know that adult learners can receive federal financial aid just like traditional college students? It’s true! Most U.S. students or eligible noncitizens qualify for financial aid when enrolling in an eligible degree or certificate program. The best way to learn what financial aid opportunities you might qualify for is by submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Once submitted, your FAFSA will determine which types of financial aid you can receive and in what amounts. It’s best to submit your FAFSA early - preferably upon applying to a program at Champlain. The Champlain College Title IV School Code is 003684. 

 

Types of Federal Financial Aid

The federal government provides more than $120 billion in financial aid each year to help students pay for their college programs or career schools.* If eligible, a chunk of that money has your name on it. A few of the most common forms of financial aid include:

  • Grants
    Grants are typically based on financial need and do not need to be repaid.

    One particular federal grant undergraduate Champlain College Online (CCO) students demonstrating exceptional financial need are historically eligible for is the Pell Grant. Amounts change annually, but the current award for the Federal Pell Grant is up to $6,345 for the 2020-2021 award year.** You’ll learn if you meet the requirements for a Federal Pell Grant, and in what amount, during the FAFSA process.

  • Scholarships
    Scholarships are financial gifts that do not need to be repaid. Students might receive scholarships based on financial need, or particular academic achievements and merits. There are thousands of scholarships available, gifted by a variety of institutions including schools, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and other organizations.

    Students interested in being considered for scholarships will need to apply to them outside of the FAFSA application. A great place to start your search is by visiting the Federal Student Aid guide to better understand what types of scholarships are out there, where to find them, and how/when to apply.

    Another great resource for finding scholarships is Peterson’s, an educational services company dedicated to furthering students’ education. Peterson’s has a list of 15 scholarships exclusively available to adult learners - just like you.

    Finally, give CareerOneStop, a resource for career exploration, a visit. CareerOneStop offers a catalog of more than 6,000 scholarship opportunities. You can narrow your search by program type (e.g. bachelor’s degree vs. graduate degree), award type (e.g. scholarship vs. fellowship), location, and more. You can even filter your search by deadline and/or award amount if you really want to hone in on when to apply by and what dollar amount you’re hoping to receive.

  • Loans
    Loans must be repaid, usually with interest. Most loans, however, do not need to be repaid until after graduation.

To see if you qualify for any federal grants, scholarships, and/or loans, you’ll need to submit your FAFSA.

 

Documents You’ll Need to Complete Your FAFSA

Before you get started on submitting your FAFSA, you’ll need to gather a few key pieces of personal and financial information. Be sure you have the following items handy:

  • Your Social Security number

  • Your Alien Registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

  • Your driver’s license (if you have one)

  • Federal tax information including IRS W-2 for you (and your spouse, if you’re married)

  • Records of any untaxed income (e.g. child support received, interest income, etc.)

  • Balances on any cash, checking accounts, or savings accounts you own

  • Balances on any investments (e.g. stocks, bonds, and real estate, other than the home in which you live)

 

Steps to Complete Your FAFSA

Now that you have the documents needed to complete your application, it’s time to get started. Follow the steps below to complete your FAFSA form with ease:

STEP 1: YOUR FSA ID

For starters, you’re going to want to create a Financial Student Aid (FSA) ID. An FSA ID is a unique username and password that you create, which will grant you access to the FAFSA online system. Your FSA ID also serves as your electronic signature, which is how you will ultimately digitally sign your application.

  • Visit fsaid.ed.gov.

  • Create a username and password.

  • Click continue and complete the registration process.

STEP 2: LOG ONTO THE FAFSA SITE

Once you have your FSA ID, you’ll be able to sign into the FAFSA site.

  • Visit fafsa.gov.

  • Under the "New to the FAFSA Process?" section click the "Start Here" button.

  • Click the box that says “I am the student.”

  • Enter your FSA ID username and password.

Once granted access, you can begin filling out your FAFSA form. Tips should appear throughout the application to help you better understand the questions. The form itself is designed to be simple. So simple, in fact, that on average the application takes about 30 minutes to complete. Even better? You can pause the form, save your place, and exit out of the site if you need to take a break and come back to it later. When you’re ready to log back in, you’ll click the “returning user” button, enter your FSA ID again, and pick up right where you left off.

STEP 3: SUBMIT YOUR FAFSA + WAIT

After you submit your FAFSA, all of your information will be shared with any career schools and/or colleges you listed on your form. You’ll experience a brief waiting period while your application is being processed. Try to be patient until you receive an update on the status of your application.

 

Other FAFSA Submission Options

If for any reason you do not feel comfortable completing your FAFSA electronically, there are two other alternate submission options available to you:

  • Mail-in your application.
    You can download a PDF copy of the FAFSA form at fafsa.gov, print it out, complete it, and mail it in. If you need to request a print-out be mailed to you, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 334-523-2691 (TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing 1-800-730-8913) for assistance.

  • Electronically apply through your school.
    You can reach out to the financial aid office at your college or career school to see if they can submit the FAFSA for you. Some schools can assist, so it doesn’t hurt to inquire.

 

Processing Your FAFSA

The timeline for processing your FAFSA varies depending on a number of factors, including whether you’re a first-time applicant or renewing applicant; how many colleges or career schools you’ve listed on your form; when you submitted your FAFSA; if any additional information is needed to process your form; and so on. 

Generally speaking, you can expect to receive an email within a few days of submission informing you that your application has been, or is being, processed. 

FIRST-TIME APPLICANTS

If this is your first time completing a FAFSA, expect to receive a financial aid offer from each college or career school you applied to and listed on your form. Each offer should outline the amount of aid you could receive at each respective institution.

Be sure to review each offer and compare them collectively to determine which school suits your academic and financial needs best.

RENEWAL APPLICANTS

If you’re completing your FAFSA again, then you know the drill. You should receive an offer of financial aid from your current school, which your school’s financial aid office will handle. You can reach out to them if you have questions about when your aid will be paid out, what it will cover, and/or if any funds will come to you directly to cover expenses like books, computer purchases, etc. 

 

Final FAFSA Tips

As you prepare yourself for the FAFSA process, keep these helpful tips in mind:

  • The FAFSA form becomes available each October for the next school year. Get in the habit of completing it as soon as it’s available so you meet the financial aid deadlines set at the school and state levels. Each state and school deadline varies.

  • Some schools won’t consider you for their internal merit scholarships unless they know you’ve submitted your FAFSA. Complete one, even if you don’t believe you’ll qualify for federal financial aid.

  • The application process takes the average user 30 minutes to complete. Do you have 30 minutes available to see if you qualify for a chunk of the $120 billion the federal government awards each year? Make time to apply!

  • The online application is designed to be interrupted so that you don’t have to get it all done in one sitting. You can easily save your place and finish it later if you’re on a time crunch, in between meetings, juggling errands, or simply need to take a break.
     

Financial Aid at CCO

At CCO, we believe that cost should never be a barrier to higher education. We’re committed to helping you find the best ways to manage and minimize your college expenses. 

Like most states and educational institutions, CCO requires that students complete the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid. Even if you have not completed your application with CCO, we encourage you to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible so that when you are accepted into CCO and ready to register, we have your financial aid information ready to go.

Learn more about financial aid options at CCO here.
 

START FAFSA


* https://studentaid.gov/sites/default/files/fafsa-process.png
** https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/grants/pell

About the Author

Rachael Tulipano

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Rachael Tulipano is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the college's story across multiple digital platforms. Rachael has extensive experience in writing, editing, and content marketing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations. She holds a B.A. in Communication and a Minor in Sociology from the University of Southern Maine.

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