It’s that time of year for college students – the time to ask for money. And UCF is urging students to file their financial aid application before March 1.

Every year students across the nation go online to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Typically, many students procrastinate. Some don’t even bother filling it out. But putting off or skipping the application can cost families money and delays.

“I have never understood why some families choose not to complete the FAFSA,” said Alicia Keaton, UCF’s new director of student financial assistance.  “Parents will tell me that they won’t qualify for aid.  My response to them is, ‘How do you know?’  If you do not qualify for need-based funding, you could qualify for low-interest federal student loans.

“If after receiving the award letter, you decide you do not want to borrow federal student loans, you can always decline them.  That’s a decision best left with the student and family. The worst mistake is not to fill out the form.”

The FAFSA is used by most colleges and universities to determine whether students are eligible for federal, state and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans and work-study programs. Students are required to fill out the application each year if they want to continue receiving financial aid, even if they qualified the prior year.

The U.S. Department of Education uses the form to conduct a “needs analysis” based on financial information, including a parent’s income. And that’s why a lot of parents assume they won’t qualify.

But Keaton encourages all students to fill out the form and to do it early. Here’s why:

  • Most UCF students — about 73 percent of undergraduates — receive grants,  scholarships or some other form of student aid.
  • Filing early improves their odds of getting aid that is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Missing the filing deadline can delay the awarding of financial aid.
  • Even if families don’t qualify for need-based help, the form is required to be considered for federal loans.
  • According to the official FAFSA website, “Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid, including low-interest Federal Stafford and/or parent PLUS loans, regardless of income or circumstances” as long as the student meets some basic requirements.

    Those requirements, which are outlined in full on the FAFSA website, include but not limited to:

  • Being a U.S citizen
  • Having a valid Social Security Number
  • Having a high school diploma or GED
  • Be admitted into a degree-seeking or certificate program
  • Because the application can be intimidating the first time, UCF has borrowed – with permission – a video to show students how to fill out the FAFSA step-by-step.

    Students and families should plan to spend at least three hours to fill out the form once they have all of the necessary documents in hand.