By Agustin “Tino” Diaz on October 22, 2016 @TinoJrDiaz

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or the FAFSA) is the gateway to all federal student aid that any U.S. citizen or permanent resident can apply for (It’s completely free!). High school seniors and college students can apply for aid by filling out the FAFSA using your own and your parent’s taxes (unless you’re over 24 or otherwise independent). The FAFSA application process can be scary if you’re not prepared, but you can find help at local financial aid offices in each college or university as well as assistance from StepUp and UHEAA. If you’re a senior in high school, ask your counselor for FAFSA help.

Through the FAFSA, you’ll be able to apply for grants, work-study, and loans; a grant is money that you do not have to pay back, work-study is a part-time job on a college campus (or off-site sometimes) and will usually work around your school schedule. Loans are funds you can borrow, so eventually you will have to pay them back.  Loan repayment typically starts six months after you graduate with your degree or license/certificate (or after you leave school or drop below half-time enrollment).

Federal financial aid you apply for through the FAFSA  comes from contributions from the state and federal government. Regardless of when you file the FAFSA, federal grants and loans will be available if you qualify. Most state grants however, run out of funds soon after the financial aid priority deadline of a college or university. This means that you have to complete your FAFSA before the priority deadline to be guaranteed the full amount of aid if you qualify for grants or work-study.

Each college or university in the state of Utah has its own priority deadline:

  • University of Utah – March 1st
  • Brigham Young University – March 1st
  • Utah State University – April 1st
  • Salt Lake Community College – April 1st
  • Westminster College – April 1st
  • Weber State University – April 1st
  • Snow College – June 1st
  • Southern Utah University – June 1st
  • LDS Business College – July 1st
  • Dixie State University – July 1st
  • Utah Valley University – July 1st

In addition to the FAFSA, you should also save think about saving your money. Saving small amounts of money add up and could help pay for your college textbooks and supplies. You should also check out 529 savings plans which are specifically tailored to help you save for future qualified higher education expenses. Utah has a top-ranked 529 savings plan called the Utah Educational Savings Plan and you should check it out. Remember, saving can start at any age, so never think that it’s too late for you to save for college.

Along with filing your FAFSA and savings, be on the lookout for scholarships. Scholarships at various colleges and universities in the U.S. are starting to require a completed FAFSA or FAFSA4Caster, which estimates how much federal financial aid you could qualify for. Be sure to check the financial aid priority deadlines for the college of your choice and it’s never a bad idea to start saving for college and your future.

Do you need help completing and submitting your FAFSA? We’re here to help!

Agustin “Tino” Diaz is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Tino and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.