The financial aid process begins with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application. By completing a FAFSA students are applying for scholarships, grants, loans and work study. This form is nationally recognized and is a requirement for all need-based financial aid as well as for some merit-based scholarship monies. Students must complete a FAFSA to meet requirements for the Promise Scholarship as well. The FAFSA may be obtained from high school counselors, college financial aid offices or on the Internet at www.fafsa.gov . Many colleges also require their own institutional form as well as the FAFSA.

You are encouraged to apply electronically if you have Internet access by using FAFSA on the Web. This method will submit your application directly to the U.S. Department of Education's Central Processing System and your application is processed within 72 hours. Before applying with FAFSA on the Web , you will need a PIN in order to sign the FAFSA electronically. You may request a PIN at www.pin.ed.gov . Also, if you apply using FAFSA on the Web , help in completing the application is built into the program at www.ed.gov/prog_info/SFA/FAFSA . The FAFSA Processing Center phone number is (800) 433-3243. You may call them with processing questions.

The Student Aid Report (SAR) details your FAFSA results. It is color coded with your FAFSA and should arrive in the mail 3-4 weeks after the processing center receives your FAFSA. The SAR contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and your eligibility for a PELL Grant. You may choose up to 5 schools to receive a copy of your SAR. Upon receiving your SAR, the financial aid officer at the school you plan to attend will prepare your financial aid package and send an award letter to you. The award letter must be answered promptly with an acceptance or refusal.

Remember, the FAFSA must be filled out every year no sooner than January 1 but as early after that date as possible; two target dates for submitting the application are Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine's Day. The FAFSA must be to the processor by March 1 to be eligible for many federal and state financial aid programs. Failure to meet deadlines may result in your being denied financial assistance for which you are eligible.