Serving as the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation, the Federal Student Aid Program grants more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study to more than 14 million college students on an annual basis. Part of what this office does is run the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (FAFSA), processing approximately 20 million applications per year.

With Western’s priority deadline of Feb. 15, it’s encouraged that those applying for financial aid should submit their applications by the deadline and according to the Financial Aid Services Center, “is one of the many factors that determine a student’s financial aid award and it can have a big impact on grant and tuition waiver funding.”

Despite the fact income and specific figures may be unknown by the deadline, those filling out their applications may estimate income and tax information and later revise those pieces of data after actual numbers have been correctly calculated.

By visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov, students will be prompted to either start a new FAFSA or return to make a correction. While filling out the application, along the way students will have instructional guidelines along the side of the application to clarify the requests for information. FAFSA is completely free, as indicated by its name, but there are sites that will charge for filling out an application. To avoid paying to apply for financial aid, go directly to the government website.

There are seven steps to completing a FAFSA: student demographics, school selection, dependency status, parent demographics, financial information, sign & submit and the final confirmation. According to the Federal Student Aid, “the FAFSA should take less than one hour to complete depending on your answers and whether or not you have the necessary information available.”

The necessary documents to complete a FAFSA are as follows: social security number, alien registration number if the applicant is not a US citizen, the most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, records of money earned, bank statements and records of investments and records of untaxed income. The student or parent filling out the FAFSA will also need a Federal student aid PIN in order to electronically sign the application. In addition, dependent students will need all of the information from their parents to complete for the form.

Along the way of filling out the application, when selecting Western Washington University, the student may manually find Western in the school selection tab, but Western’s federal school code is “003802.”

Some of the more difficult aspects of the FAFSA application include misreporting taxes and income. In order to determine these figures, use the income tax that was actually paid, rather than the W-2 withholdings. The federal tax return should be the source of income information, but in the event that document is unavailable, students may estimate by being as accurate as possible. One of the more common confusions with FAFSA is differentiating the adjusted gross income and income tax. These numbers will typically not be identical.

When it comes to dependency, another common error students make regard determining household size and dependency status. If a student is independent, then their household size should only include themselves, spouse and children who receive more than half of their support from the student. In the event a student is a dependent, then the student should include themselves, parents and siblings that receive more than half of their support from their parents.

Notification of financial aid and the forms of aid will occur in the spring for incoming freshmen and during the summer for returning students. While Western has thousands of student employees, the work-study opportunities are limited to about 600.

Though the application may appear daunting, by carefully reading the directions and using clarifications on the sides of the applications can be helpful. Though if further problems persist with understanding what the application is asking, the student may contact Western’s Financial Aid Services Center at (360) 650-3470 or in person at Old Main 265.