By Maureen Brakke, on March 3, 2016

This month,  I asked, Alexa Norton, a Utah State University student, to share some things she wishes she would have known about the Free Application for Federal Student aid (FAFSA) when she was in high school.

What is the FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application you fill out when you’re a senior in high school that tells you how much federal student aid money you qualify for to help pay for college. Federal student aid comes in the forms of grants, work-study, some scholarships, and student loans.

About Alexa:Alexa Norton
Alexa previously served a mission for 18 months for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) in Everett, Washington, and is currently a freshman at Utah State University. She hasn’t quite decided on a college major, but is looking into elementary education since she loves kids and works at a daycare. She also loves the outdoors and being in the sun whenever she can.

Four things I wish I’d known about the FAFSA in high school:

The FAFSA is administered by the U.S. Federal Government.

“When I was in high school, I thought the FAFSA was administered by each individual college which isn’t true”, Alexa points out. The FAFSA is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, which is part of the U.S. Federal Government (so is the money), and each college receives your FAFSA information (be sure to add the college to your FAFSA) if you attend that college. The college will then distribute the money to you from the government. Learn more about what happens after you file your FAFSA.

Filing the FAFSA takes time. Be thorough and patient.

“I thought the FAFSA application would take a few minutes, when in reality it took a lot longer. This isn’t something that you can hurry and get through. You will also need a lot more information for the application than you think”, Alexa advises, such as your Social Security number (or permanent resident number), your tax info, your parent(s) Social Security numbers (or permanent resident numbers, if they have it), their tax info, and your own FSA ID, which is a username and password needed to sign the FAFSA.

“Writing down your FSA ID username and password is a good idea”, says Alexa. “You’ll be using them a lot and don’t want to forget them.” One of your parents will also need their own FSA ID so they can sign your FAFSA (if you’re a dependent student). She also adds that it was helpful to have one of her parents complete the parent portion of the FAFSA since they knew more about their information than she did.

File your FAFSA each year you’re in college.

“I didn’t know I needed to file the FAFSA each year in college to see if I still qualified for financial aid.” Alexa says. Many college students don’t know this and if they did, it could help many with college costs. You may also qualify for different financial aid awards from year to year depending on your situation.

The FAFSA isn’t welfare.

Lastly, Alexa wants to debunk one of the biggest FAFSA myths out there: “The FAFSA is not welfare and not just for low-income people. I know plenty of people who were able to qualify for some financial aid [via the FAFSA] for reasons other than the fact that they or their parents had a low income.” she says. You just don’t know what financial aid you could qualify for until you file the FAFSA. It’s always free to apply.

Maureen Brakke is a communications specialist with the Utah System of Higher Education. She also manages StepUpUtah.com, and formerly worked as a financial aid and college prep outreach officer with UHEAA. You can find her on Twitter @BrakM30