The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens October 1. The FAFSA can seem quite intimidating, especially for students and families who are filling it out for the first time. However, it does not have to be intimidating. Below I provide some tips for the FAFSA, as well as some answers to some very common FAFSA questions.
To complete the FAFSA, you must have some specific information available. The FAFSA will require information from the student, as well as the student’s parents or guardians. Before heading over to the FAFSA website to file your FAFSA, make sure you have the following documents and information available:
- FSA ID. Anyone who plans to fill out the FAFSA must have a FSA ID. Parents and students will each need to have a FSA ID. The SA ID is your electronic signature. While you cannot start filling out the FAFSA until October 1, you can create your FSA ID now.
- Social Security Number. You will not need to provide a copy of your SSN, but you will need to provide your social security number on the FASA.
- Driver’s License Number. Again, you did not need to provide a copy of your license, but you need to know the number. If you do not have your driver’s license, that is okay.
- 2016 Tax Records. Have your tax returns and other tax documents available. The FAFSA will ask for specific numbers that can be found on your tax documents. Many of the questions will tell you exactly where to find the information, such as the line from your tax return you will need for a particular question. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be available for the 2018-2019 FAFSA. Instead of inputting the information yourself, you may use IRS DRT to retrieve the required tax information the FAFSA requires.
- Records of untaxed income. If you have any untaxed income, such as child support, interest income, and veterans benefits, you will need to provide this information.
- Asset information. The FAFSA will ask for information about your assets, including savings and checking account balances, investments, and real estate.
- List of schools you are interested in attending. If you are applying for admission and want to be considered for financial aid, you will need to list the schools you are considering. Colleges will receive the FAFSA information so they can determine how much financial aid they will offer. You can list up to ten schools on your FAFSA at a time. If you are applying to more colleges, you will be able to add more colleges at a later date. Some states require students to list schools in a particular order to be consider for state aid. To see if your state had a requirement, click here.
The FAFSA is used in a few ways when determining financial aid.
- The FAFSA determines eligibility for federal financial aid. This includes federal grants, as well as federal low-interest loans. The U.S. Department of Education offers subsidized and unsubsidized loans to students who submit the FAFSA. Students who qualify for subsidized loans will have the interest paid for by the government while they are in school! Parents may also be offered PLUS loans that have low interest rates.
- The FAFSA determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount of money your family is expected to pay for college. Colleges will use the EFC to determine the amount of financial aid they will award a student.
Other things students and families should consider when submitting the FAFSA:
- Pay attention to deadlines. While the FAFSA opens on October 1, you do not need to submit it on October 1. Students are encourages to submit the FAFSA early because some aid is awarded on a first serve basis, but states and institutions all have different financial aid deadlines. Make sure the FAFSA is submitted prior to the individual deadlines. Submitting the FAFSA just one day after the deadline can drastically affect the financial aid that is offered.
- Don’t pay anyone to submit the FAFSA for you. There are companies out there that will tell you the FAFSA is difficult to fill out and they can make the process easier by filling it out for you for a fee. There are also companies that say they will be able to get you more financial aid if they fill it out for you. Don’t listen to them! The FAFSA is free and you do not need anyone to do it for you!
- The EFC is not what you will pay for college. Unfortunately, many students and families have the belief that they will pay the EFC and financial aid will cover the rest. While this may be true at some colleges, it is not true for all colleges. If you qualify for federal and state aid, you will receive this with your financial aid award. However, colleges have different formulas they use to determine the amount of financial aid they will offer you. In addition to the FAFSA and other financial aid documents they require, many colleges will also use your GPA, test scores, and other criteria to determine the amount of financial aid you will receive from the institution.
- You may have to submit other items to be considered for financial aid. Some states and colleges may require other documents to be considered for financial aid. For example, some colleges may require the CSS Profile or their own financial aid application. Check with your state and each of the colleges you are considering to determine what forms must be submitted to be considered for aid.
- There is free help! While you should not pay anyone to fill out the FAFSA for you, you are not alone. There are many resources you can turn to if you have questions. The FAFSA has a “help” section that offers answer to many common questions. Many high schools and colleges offer free FAFSA workshops. And, college financial aid officers can answer your questions.
- Everyone should fill out the FAFSA. No matter what your income, it is important to fill out the FAFSA. Unfortunately many students believe they will not qualify for financial aid and do not submit the FAFSA. However, the FAFSA determines eligibility for free money (grants) and low interest loans. In addition, the FAFSA determine the EFC and colleges use this information to determine financial need. Even if you have a high EFC, you might show financial need. Financial need is defined as the Cost of Attendance minus your EFC. If the cost of attendance is high like you might find at a private institution, you might have financial need and the college may award some financial aid.
The FAFSA is not as scary as many people think it might be. College can be expensive! Therefore, fill out the FAFSA and apply for financial aid to help you pay for the cost of college!