By Tamara KrauseThe second part of this series focuses on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as many parents and students often find this to be one of the most confusing aspects of the college financial aid process. Students often miss out on free money for college because they feel intimidated by the application or don’t understand how the information is being used by colleges. The following questions will hopefully shed some light on the subject and help you understand the importance of completing the FAFSA each year. Is there any other financial aid besides the FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is just that, an application for federal aid. Information provided on the form will help determine your eligibility for Pell Grants, work-study programs, and federal student loans. Some colleges may also use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® (in addition to the FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for institutional and other non-federal aid. Students should also consider private scholarships, which can be found by using a free online search service, such as our Scholarship Match. Based on my family’s income, I don’t think we’ll qualify for financial aid. Is it still necessary for me to complete the FAFSA? To be honest, every U.S. student should complete the FAFSA. Why? One college’s definition of need often varies from another. Additionally, many colleges now require students to submit the FAFSA in order to be considered for any institutional aid, including merit-based programs. To ensure you are not leaving any free money on the table, take the time to complete the FAFSA each year. You might be pleasantly surprised! My daughter is a sophomore in high school. Is it too soon to submit the FAFSA? Yes, it is too soon. Students cannot submit the FAFSA until January of their senior year (beginning with the 2017-18 academic year, the FAFSA will open on Oct. 1). However, you can use the FAFSA4caster to get an idea of how much aid your daughter may be eligible to receive. This can help you create a savings plan to meet her expected college costs. Once she begins her senior year, be prepared to file your taxes as early as possible. This will ensure you meet the financial aid deadlines at her prospective colleges. I am 20 years old and live on my own. Why do I have to include my parents’ income on the FAFSA? According to the FAFSA guidelines, a student is only considered independent if he/she is one of the following: at least 24 years old, married, a graduate or professional student, a veteran, a member of the armed forces, an orphan, a ward of the court, someone with legal dependents other than a spouse, an emancipated minor, or someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. If your parents are not helping you financially, or you do not have a relationship with them, be sure to share this information with your college financial aid office, as it may be taken into consideration when determining your eligibility for any available institutional aid. If you have any questions or concerns about scholarships and other college financial aid, please feel free to post your questions in our comment section below or on our Facebook page. Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 3, too!