College & Career

By Emily McInerney
John Hancock

After the application process, the next thing seniors have to worry about is paying for college. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the best way to find out how much money you’ll have in government support and how much you have to get from grants, scholarships and loans. FAFSA determines how much your family is expected to contribute to your college costs and expenses.

Even for those who have practiced filling out the application, it can be a difficult task. Here are some ways to help ease the process:

1. Apply early. The new application is available on Jan. 1. John Hancock counselor Mary Corral suggests starting early. “Even if your parents don’t have their W2 by then, you should still fill it out to reserve your spot,” Corral says. “Once they get the tax forms you can make adjustments.” The earlier you get it filled out and sent in, the better chance you have of receiving more money. Be sure to apply each year you are in school!

2. Get income tax information ahead of time. The last thing you need is to search through papers for old tax forms. Make it easier on everyone and have it all ready before you begin the FAFSA application. “Parent involvement is very important in the application process,” says Alejandra Gutierrez, Illinois Student Assistance Commission coach.

3. Be prepared. In some cases, the government needs physical proof, such as tax stubs and birth certificate copies. Even though you give your Social Security number, officials have to be sure everything is accurate.

4. Get a pin number that you’ll remember. Each year you fill out the FAFSA, you will use your FAFSA pin. After the first year, it makes everything a little easier because most of your information will already be online.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Gutierrez says that the FAFSA process can be overwhelming at times so some students don’t take advantage of the aid. “A lot of students think they can’t go to college because of money, but they qualify for more (aid) than they think.” For most students, this is a whole new experience. If there are any questions, you should ask your parents and teachers for help right away.

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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