FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is now "live" at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. Completion and submission of FAFSA online is essential, both for merit and need-based aid, including grants, scholarships, loans and work study. Indeed, most colleges will not consider a financial aid award, of any kind, without submission of FAFSA.

Our friends at My College Calendar offer a concise, informative and easy to follow, step-by-step guide to completing and submitting the FAFSA form. We encourage both students and parents alike to review the basics, and then, to file the FAFSA as soon as possible. [If your college requires the submission of the CSS Profile, you should complete and file the required forms at this time as well.]

Remember, colleges not only have application deadlines, but financial aid deadlines as well. And there's only so much money to go around, so the sooner you file, the better your chances of securing aid, in one form or another.

Here's the post from My College Calendar:

Parents: Submit Your Son or Daughter's FAFSA As Soon As Possible

Parents should submit their student's online FAFSA in the next 10-14 days. Keep in mind financial aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis from “pools” of money; waiting to submit the FAFSA until after mid-January 2011 may be harmful to your student's chances for receiving significant need-based financial aid awards.

To complete the online FAFSA:

1. Click here: Online FAFSA

2. Enter the student’s name, Social Security Number and date of birth. Click on the “NEXT” blue arrow button near the page bottom.

3. Confirm the information you entered is correct and click on the “NEXT” blue arrow button near the page bottom.

4. Click the “Start 2011-2012 FAFSA” button.

5. Create a password in the event you need to save your information and finish the FASFA at a later time. Be sure to write down your password on paper for safekeeping. Click on the “NEXT” blue arrow button.

6. To continue, again click on the “NEXT” blue arrow button.

7. Enter all requested information regarding your family, parents’ income and financial assets for 2010, and student income and financial assets for 2010. Remember, you are using estimates of your income and assets for 2010.

8. When you get to the “Sign and Submit” page, review all the information you have entered by clicking on the “VIEW FAFSA SUMMARY” button on the page bottom.

9. After you have reviewed the FAFSA Summary and verified your information is correct, print a copy of your summary information and place the paper copy in your Student Information file box for safekeeping.

10. The online FAFSA should be signed electronically by both the student and one parent by entering your FAFSA PINs. On the “Sign and Submit” page, click the bubbles for both the student and parent which say, “Sign Electronically With My PIN (fastest)”.

11. Also, on the “Sign and Submit” page, both student and parent should enter their PINs and click the “SIGN” button to the right of the window where the PINs were entered.

12. Continuing on the “Sign and Submit” page, both student and parent should click the “Agree” bubble for the Terms of Agreement.

13. Lastly, on the “Sign and Submit” page, click the blue “SUBMIT MY FAFSA NOW” button.

If you questions about the FAFSA, you can contact a FAFSA representative by clicking here. Follow the directions provided; you can chat live online, speak via telephone, or send an e-mail to get answers to your questions.

For detailed, question-by-question instructions for completing the 2011-2012 FAFSA, click here.

Within 1-to-3 days of submitting the online FAFSA, you should receive your Student Aid Report (called the “SAR” or “E-SAR”) via e-mail from the U.S. Department of Education (usually from FederalStudentAidFAFSA@cpsemail.ed.gov). Be sure to check your bulk or junk e-mail because the SAR may be delivered to these folders.

The SAR is a summary of the information entered into your FAFSA. Please review your SAR to make sure all the information listed is correct. Print a copy of your SAR and place the paper copy in your Student Information file box for safekeeping. An example SAR can be seen by clicking here.

Also, the SAR will show your calculated Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based upon the financial information you entered into the online FAFSA. The EFC is the amount of money your family is expected to pay for college expenses. The best possible EFC is zero, meaning your family is expected to pay $0 for college tuition, housing, etc.

The EFC is an indication of how much financial aid you are ELIGIBLE to receive; it does NOT mean you will definitely receive large amounts of need-based financial aid. Your EFC will be used by federal and state governments and colleges you listed on the FAFSA to calculate the amount of need-based financial aid you are eligible to receive (NOT how much you WILL receive).

Your EFC is shown on top of the first page (on the example SAR, the EFC is 3256. This means the family is expected to pay $3,256 toward college expenses).

If you don’t received your electronic SAR within 1-to-2 weeks of submitting your online FAFSA, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) Monday through Friday [8 a.m. - midnight (Eastern Time)] or Saturday [9 a.m. - 6 p.m. (Eastern Time)].

For more information visit MyCollegeCalendar.org.

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