Completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is an essential step in securing state and federal financial aid for your college education. Here’s everything you need to know before filling out this important document.

Submitting Your FAFSA Form is Free

Submitting your FAFSA form is always free via the U.S. Department of Education’s FAFSA website. Beware of unscrupulous websites charging fees for submitting this form. These sites simply prey on students that don’t know better. They do not offer a premium service, despite their claims.

You Should Create Your FSA ID Early

You’ll need a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to log in to various U.S. Department of Education websites and to complete your FAFSA form. If you are still dependent on your parents, either your mom or dad needs his or her own FSA ID, too. Creating FSA IDs via the Student Aid website is simple, but delays can hold up the process. In some cases, you might need to wait three days before using your new FSA ID. That’s why experts recommend creating your FSA ID as soon as possible, even before you’re ready to complete your FAFSA form.

Also note that you must create your own FSA ID. If a parent needs one, he or she must also create his or her own. It’s illegal for anyone to make an FSA ID on someone else’s behalf.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool Can Reduce Human Error and Save Time

State and federal bodies consider your last tax figures when determining your aid eligibility. Inputting relevant details from your last tax return can be tedious and time-consuming. A data retrieval tool from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can prefill tax information to your FAFSA form. This will save you around 30 minutes and ensure accuracy. New increased security and privacy protections help you use the tool with confidence.

Anyone who’s filed taxes electronically within the last three weeks or by mail within the last 11 weeks can use the IRS data retrieval tool. Simply click the “Link to IRS” button, which displays in the FAFSA form after clicking the “View option to link to the IRS” hyperlink.

You Should Complete Your FAFSA Form as Soon as Possible

With a final deadline of June 30, 2020 for the 2019–2020 financial year, you might think there’s plenty of time to get your FAFSA form in. However, submitting your form as soon as it’s available on October 1 can really pay off. Many states and colleges have much earlier deadlines for some financial awards. For example, to qualify for aid in Tennessee, your FAFSA form must be submitted by mid-January.

At least 12 American states also allocate grants on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, if you procrastinate completing your FAFSA form, there might be nothing left. Scholarships and grants, which don’t need to be repaid as loans do, usually have earlier cutoffs than the national deadlines.

All students seeking financial aid must complete a FAFSA form. Make sure you understand this document and what it takes to complete it to give yourself the best chance of securing state or federal financial aid.

The college experience can be exciting and fun, especially when you’re making friends and enjoying on-campus activities. But the daily grind of classes, schoolwork, and studying may cause you to feel a bit tired, stressed, or overwhelmed at times. Take time to care for yourself throughout the semester with these college student self-care tips.

1. Enjoy Some Alone Time

College is filled with classes and social engagements that keep you around other students for most of the day. And if you live with roommates, private moments may be especially rare. Enjoy some time to yourself so you can recharge after a busy day or week. Find a quiet spot in the library, go for a walk across campus, or fly solo to see a movie at the theater. Use the time alone to relax and think without the frequent distractions of college life.

2. Prioritize Your Sleep Schedule

College students often stay up late studying or spending time with friends. While those late nights can provide some important test prep or turn into cherished memories, it’s not a good idea to do it all the time. Getting enough sleep is vital to your health, energy levels, and mood. Plus, a good night’s sleep helps you to learn and retain new information and boost your memory, all of which is very important when you’re in class or studying every day.

Make sure you’re getting seven to eight hours of sleep most nights of the week. Establish a bedtime routine where you take a warm shower, read a book, listen to a podcast, or meditate before dozing off. These relaxing activities can help you rest more soundly and stick to a healthy sleep schedule.

3. Make Time for Exercise

Working out is one of the best methods of self-care, but it can be hard for some college students to find the motivation to do it. Even if you have a busy schedule, however, it’s important to fit in some physical activity at least a few times a week. Regular exercise can improve your mood and boost your energy. It even helps you enjoy deeper sleep at night (as long as you don’t exercise too close to bedtime). Consider trying one or more of these workouts for college students:

Take a workout class at the on-campus gym.
Join an intramural sports team.
Go for a run across campus.
Follow YouTube exercise videos at home.
Get a friend to be your workout buddy.

4. Talk It Out

When you’re feeling stressed, it can help to talk about what’s going through your mind. Meet up with a friend and chat about how you’re feeling. Call up a parent or sibling for support. If you’re a private person, it may help just to write out your feelings in a journal.

Don’t hesitate to take advantage of your school’s mental health services as well. Most universities and colleges have health centers where you can schedule an appointment with a counselor or therapist. These professionals can help you talk through any challenges you’re facing and provide useful strategies for overcoming them.

Don’t let stress get to you this semester. Instead, use these tips to take time to care for yourself.