FAFSA season is officially upon us! Student and parents have had access to the 2015-2016 Free Application for Federal Student Aid since January 1st, but many have not filed. If you're one of the thousands of students in the U.S. who hasn't filed a FAFSA yet, don't worry! Follow these tips to make sure your FAFSA is in tip-top shape. Remember: MSOE's FAFSA filing priority deadline is March 15th!

1. Gather your materials before you start.

You look at the clock and see you have an hour before your next class. You hop on www.fafsa.gov (not .com) and are furiously entering in your information. Not too far in, you start seeing things you don't know how to answer. Untaxed income? Net worth of business? What the heck do all these things mean and how were you supposed to know you needed to answer these types of questions?

Seriously- this happens more than you think. Looking back at the first time I filled out my FAFSA, I realize that it took me three times as long as it should have taken. Why? Because I didn't prepare with a FAFSA checklist before I sat down and dove into the application.

Thankfully for you, we have come up with a FAFSA Filing Checklist so you don't have to worry about being unprepared. Oh, and pro-tip for you returning students? An easy way to fill in a lot of the basics is to file a "FAFSA Renewal"- it will save you lots of time!

2. Figure out who needs to be on the FAFSA.

This step is really a two-for-one deal. The first thing you need to do is figure out if you're considered a dependent student or an independent student. Many students and parents think that this categorization has to do with ones tax filing status or place of residence. This question- Am I dependent or independent- is not so simple. To help you gauge whether or not you will need to provide parental information on the FAFSA, we have our FAFSA FAQs: Am I Dependent or Independent? info-graphic for you to use.

So let's say you find out that you need to provide parental information. Do you know who you should put on the FAFSA? "My parents got divorced and dad got remarried but I stay with mom sometimes and I think maybe I put everyone. Or maybe I put just my mom?" Sound familiar? With parents getting divorced, remarried, or sometimes not even getting married in the first place, questions are plentiful. If you're confused, reference our FAFSA FAQs: Who is my Parent? info-graphic.

3. Check and double-check.

While many of you may be tempted to get your FAFSA done as quickly as humanly possible, rushing through the FAFSA is a risk. Other than making sure that you have everything filled out, there are areas of information that may become mixed up between you and your parent; a pretty bad situation if you ask me! So before you submit that FAFSA, really take the time to make sure all of the information is correct (I'm looking at you, "Cash, Savings and Checking"). A few minutes of review can save you weeks of headaches.

4. Don't forget to sign.

The last step before your FAFSA is submitted- signing it! Whether you sign electronically by your Personal Identification Number (PIN) or print out a signature page and mail it in, this final step is crucial. If you did not sign your FAFSA upon submission, MSOE will reach out to you and let you know, because without that signature, it's a lot of information for us that can't be utilized.

5. If all else fails, ask for help.

Whether you call the FAFSA Help Line at 1-800-433-3243 or stop in our office, know that you aren't alone. As much as the FAFSA has been streamlined, students and parents still have questions. So don't wait until you're pulling your hair out! Call us, email us, send us something on the HUB, or walk right in to get your FAFSA questions answered.

Want a FAFSA walk-through? Just hit "play".