Free Money for College – What a Holiday Gift!

By Jesse Ketterman, University of Maryland Extension

College tuition continues to increase.  According to information provided by the College Board, tuition and fees increased almost 2 percent last year.  At times this number has been as high as 10 percent in recent years.  Students are expected to cover this increase year after year.  Where can you find money to cover the increased cost?

Whether you or your child are applying to college or already registered, you should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. FAFSA is not just for need-based loans and grants assistance. The FAFSA can determine whether a student is eligible for federal student aid such as grants, loans, and work-study, as well as awards and scholarships.

Timing is everything when it comes to receiving free money. You are able to complete the FAFSA as early as October 1st if you’re planning to attend college the following fall semester. The deadline can vary depending upon the state, but in Maryland the deadline is March 1st.  Each institution may also have its own deadline. But you should not be focusing on the deadline, as financial aid offices start putting together financial aid packages much sooner. I recommend that you complete your FAFSA between October 1st to December 31st.

So the next question is, where to start? The Federal Student Aid (FSA) website contains all of the information you need to complete the FAFSA. Make sure you have the following items ready when submitting:

  • FSA ID (your login and password for your online FAFSA account)
  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number
  • Federal tax returns
  • w-2 forms
  • Bank statements

If you are a dependent, you will also need your parents’ information, including their FSA ID to authorize the application. Before you start applying make sure to understand the process by watching this overview video and step-by-step video tutorial.

One more thing: the FAFSA is something you need to complete every year. So, mark October 1, 2019 on your calendar.