You’re probably a primary resource for your students when it comes to all things college — including paying for it.

Often, the initial step in paying for a college education is federal student aid, and explaining, or at least jump-starting, the application process can fall on your shoulders. There’s so much to cover that it can feel overwhelming to be the gatekeeper of this information. To simplify your financial aid chats, here are some important points to share with students navigating the maze of federal aid.

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  • The Most Important Things Counselors Should Tell Students About Applying for Federal Student Aid

  • Fill Out the FAFSA

  • Safeguard Your FSA ID

    • You and your parents need your FSA ID every year you apply for aid.

    • Keep it in a safe, accessible place.

  • Prep Your College List

    • Have your FAFSA information sent to every school where you’re considering applying.

    • You can list up to ten schools on the FAFSA.

    • If your college list is longer than ten schools, send your information to more schools once you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR).

  • You’re Not Committing

    • Sending the FAFSA to schools is not a commitment to attend.

    • Schools can’t see where else you send your information.

  • Watch Out for Scams

    • The FAFSA is free to fill out and the only website you should use is fafsa.ed.gov.

    • Be wary of phishing sites looking for personal data and websites that charge you to fill out the FAFSA.

  • Link Tax Forms

    Save time and avoid mistakes by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which links tax information instead of manually entering it.

  • Be Punctual

    • The FAFSA comes out every year on October 1.

    • Fill it out as early as possible since some schools award aid on a first-come, first-served basis.

    • There are also state and school deadlines, so getting your application in early will avoid missing them.

  • Talk to Your Family

    • Paying for college involves a frank conversation about a family’s income, savings and ability to pay.

    • It may be up to you to talk finances with your parents.

  • Review Your SAR

    • You will receive a SAR within three to five days of submitting your FAFSA online.

    • Review this with your parents to be sure there are no mistakes.

    • If there are errors, correct them as soon as possible in your online account.

  • Compare Award Letters

    • You’ll receive award letters from the schools where you’ve been admitted beginning in mid March.

    • Compare the aid each school offers and review with your parents so you can determine which schools you can afford.

  • Ask for More Aid

    If you’re not happy with the aid offered in your award letter, there are two ways to ask for more aid — appealing and negotiating.

  • Decide If You’ll Appeal or Negotiate

  • Ask Questions

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This post was written with advice and information from Deb Shames, an independent college counselor in New York, and Dawn Mann, career guidance and counseling program manager at the Georgia Department of Education.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of the US Department of Education.