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Easy steps to apply for college financial aid

For first time appliers of financial aid, the process can seem overwhelmingly complicated. With all the required documents, signatures and unknown abbreviations, it may be enough to make potential students give up on their dreams of higher education. However, if the student knows what to expect and comes prepared, there is no reason he or she cannot walk away with a satisfying experience in applying for financial aid.

The first thing to know is the FAFSA. You will hear this word a lot as it is the main application for aid from the federal government, state, and even your college or university of choice. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you chose to fill it out online, make sure you are at fafsa.ed.gov. Other websites may try to charge you. 

Next you need to decide if you will apply online or on paper. Online will create a neat version of your application that is sent electronically to the Department of Education. The website will walk you through the entire process, including applying for a PIN to sign the FAFSA. This personal identification number will be yours through your entire educational career and when you repay student loans, so be sure to keep it.
If you choose to use paper, you can pick up the hard copy of the FAFSA at your school’s financial aid office. It also comes with instructions, but you will be responsible for mailing it to the Department of Education yourself. 

Depending on your financial situation, the documents you will need to fill out the form vary. However, to start out, here is a basic list of items to have while completing the FAFSA: social security number, driver’s license, income tax returns, and a bank statement. 

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