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How (and why) to check your FAFSA status

January means the beginning of financial-aid season. Here's how to check on your FAFSA status.

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    President Barack Obama, center, talks with Marko Platts, right seated, and other students at Coral Reef High School, Friday, March 7, 2014, in Miami. Several changes to FAFSA have taken place under President Obama's administration.
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So you submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. The application lets you be considered for federal student loans, grants and work-study programs, plus aid from your state, and college or university.

Now the burning question is, “How much aid will I qualify for?” It may take a few weeks or months to find out, because schools need time to allocate their aid. Below we outline how to check your FAFSA status, what to do if you’re selected for the FAFSA verification process, and finally, how to see your financial aid package.

Checking your FAFSA status online

To check your FAFSA status, log on to FAFSA.ed.gov using your FSA ID, the username and password you used to complete the application. You can check your status online even if you submitted it via snail mail. When you log in, you’ll see one of six statuses, according to the office of Federal Student Aid:

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  • Not Submitted: If you still haven’t completed the FAFSA, do so as soon as possible because some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Processing: It takes three to five days for the Department of Education to process your FAFSA if you submitted it online and seven to 10 days if you mailed it in.
  • On Hold – Missing Signatures: Forgetting to sign the FAFSA is the most common FAFSA mistake, according to the Federal Student Aid office. If your FAFSA is on hold for this reason, colleges can’t accept your FAFSA and you won’t be considered for aid. Go back to your FAFSA and provide a signature to correct it.
  • Processed – Missing Signatures: Some FAFSAs are processed even if they’re missing a signature. Still, go back to your FAFSA and provide a signature. After your FAFSA is processed, you’ll be able to view your Student Aid Report, which is a summary of the information you provided on your FAFSA. The Student Aid Report includes your Expected Family Contribution, or the amount the Department of Education determines your family can afford to pay out-of-pocket toward college this year. Schools use this figure to determine how much aid you’re eligible for.
  • Processed – Action Required: You’ll get this status if your application is processed but incomplete because of an issue other than a missing signature, according to the office of Federal Student Aid. If your FAFSA is incomplete, your Student Aid Report won’t include your Expected Family Contribution. If you get this status, you’ll also see a message explaining what the issue is and how to fix it. A common problem is the information applicants provide on the FAFSA doesn’t match the Social Security Administration’s records.
  • Processed Successfully: Even if your FAFSA is processed successfully, you should still review your Student Aid Report to ensure you didn’t miss questions or provide incorrect information. There will be asterisks next to the questions you left blank, says Kevin Fudge, government relations and community affairs manager at American Student Assistance, a nonprofit focused on college financing issues. If you didn’t mean to leave them blank, or if you made another mistake, go back and update your FAFSA.

If you’re selected for verification

Your Student Aid Report will indicate if you’ve been selected for verification, a process university financial aid offices use to verify that the information you provided on your FAFSA is correct. Some schools verify all applicants, and some choose students randomly, Fudge says.

“Verification does not mean [the student] made a mistake,” he says. “It does not mean they did something wrong.”

If you’re selected, the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to will ask you for additional documentation. As long as you provide the information requested by the deadline they set, you’ll still be eligible for financial aid.

Reviewing your financial aid award package

To find out how much aid you qualify for, you have to check with the financial aid offices at the colleges you’re accepted to. The colleges you listed on your FAFSA will have access to your application one day after it’s processed, but it may take weeks or months for them to review your application and offer you a financial aid package.

Most colleges have online portals for applicants and accepted students. If the schools you applied to do, this is most likely where you’ll go to see the status of your financial aid package, upload any missing documents and accept your financial aid awards.

After you get your financial aid award letter from the school you want to attend, consider how much of it you want to accept. Remember — you don’t have to accept all the aid you’re offered. If you accept student loans, you’ll be responsible for repaying them every month starting about six months after you graduate.

This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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