It's FAFSA time! For families of seniors in high school and students in college, October 1 signals the time to complete the FAFSA.
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a necessary part of paying for college. It’s an online form that is filled out each year the student will be in college.
This form is used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. This includes grants, work study, and loans. The FAFSA may also be used by colleges, universities, and some private lenders to determine eligibility for their financial aid.
While there are many myths about financial aid and the FAFSA, it’s important to remember that no matter what, you cannot receive any type of federal aid unless you complete the FAFSA – including grant money! So even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for anything, still complete the FAFSA. You never know what’s out there. Plus, you don’t have to accept anything if you don’t want to.
You can begin filling out the FAFSA after October 1 of the student’s senior year in high school or if they’re a returning college student (returning in the fall). Many schools also have their own specific deadlines for financial aid. You’ll want to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible as many funds are limited and given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The FAFSA Process
Before you sit down to complete the FAFSA, take some time to gather the information you’ll need. For many of the questions, you’ll need information for both parent/guardian and student. Check out the Student Aid website for more information and to prepare your list.
Create Your FSA ID
Your FSA ID is a username and password used to verify your identity when filling out the FAFSA and when accessing your financial aid documents. It can serve as your legal signature and makes it easier to complete everything online.
Complete and Submit the FAFSA
Set aside some time to go through the FAFSA. Answer the questions honestly. Before you hit submit, verify your answers.
You can submit the application online or by downloading the new mobile app, myStudentAid.
Review your Student Aid Report
After you’ve submitted the FAFSA, the form will be processed, information will be verified, and a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be developed and sent to you.
The SAR includes a summary of your information and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is sent to the schools you indicated on the FAFSA for use in calculating your award package.
Receive and Review Financial Aid Packages
After the school receives your EFC, they will calculate your Financial Need. To get this number, they subtract your EFC from the Cost of Attendance.
Once they have your Financial Need, they will put together a financial aid package that helps meet that need. This package could include grants, work study (if you selected that as an option on your FAFSA), and loans.
Compare and Select a School
If you’ve applied to multiple schools, you’ll receive multiple award letters.
Take some time to review what each school is able to offer you. Were they able to meet your financial need 100%? Are you going to need to find alternate ways to pay for your school? How much will you need to take out in loans at each school? Use this chart to help you compare.
Accept Aid Package
Once you’ve decided on a school, you also need to accept your aid package. You don’t have to accept everything the school offers you – this includes the type of aid and the amount. You only accept what you need.
- You always want to accept grants and scholarships. These don’t need to be repaid and are considered free money that can be used to help pay for tuition.
- Next, you’ll want to accept work study (if you selected it as an option). While the money doesn’t need to be paid back, you do have to apply for and keep a job to continue receiving the money.
- Next, you’ll want to accept any subsidized loans. With subsidized loans, the interest on the loan doesn’t begin to accrue until you leave school.
- Next to accept are unsubsidized loans. Interest on unsubsidized loans begins to accrue as soon as you take out the loan.
Once you’ve decided what you want to accept, follow the instructions on the award letter.
The FAFSA and financial aid process doesn’t have to be complicated. With a little preparation and research, getting money for college is easier than you think.