With students preparing to go to college in the fall, many are worried about how they will pay for it. For some, the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the only hope of affording higher education.
CNN reported in 2017 that even families making more than $100,000 per year can’t afford nearly 60 percent of U.S. colleges, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy. The IHEP defines affordability as the ability to pay after saving 10 percent of one’s discretionary income plus a student working ten hours per week during college. That’s a lot of money, especially when considered alongside the 10 to 15 percent experts recommend you should save for retirement.
For students in low and middle-income families, the situation is far grimmer. The IHEP also reports that “low- and moderate-income students with fewer financial resources could only afford 1 to 5 percent of colleges.” That’s a shocking number of kids who, without some kind of financial aid, have less of a chance in life solely because of their financial situations. Fortunately, the FAFSA exists not only for those students but for all in some capacity.
Read on to find out all you need to know to prepare for your, or your child’s education.
What is FAFSA?
The FAFSA is a form that families can fill out to apply for federal grants, work-study opportunities, and loans. You can think of it as a gateway to a world of possibilities. The form is free to fill out. Once you submit it to the federal student aid office of the U.S. Department of Education they will review it. They will then connect you to various programs for which you may qualify. In other words, you can save yourself a lot of work and shopping around by filling this out.
Just about everyone is eligible. Even if you don’t think you qualify for need-based aid, you may still be eligible for an unsubsidized loan.
How is eligibility determined?
According to the FAFSA.gov website, you must be a United States citizen or an eligible noncitizen of the United States to receive federal student aid. You must have a valid social security number. Exempt from this requirement are Students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.
In addition, you must have completed homeschooling, received a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or received a high school diploma. You must also enroll in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate and must maintain a satisfactory grade point average. You also may not owe a refund on a federal student grant, nor may you be in default on a federal student loan.
In addition, you must be enrolled in the Selective Service System if you are a male and not currently serving active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
If you do drugs, you should probably stop. A conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs while receiving federal student aid disqualifies you.
The FAFSA.gov Website
This is where the magic happens! The website serves as your hub for everything you need to apply for federal student aid. Here you will create your login, fill out your FAFSA, and find all the information you need.
How to create your FAFSA log in
It is easy to create your FAFSA log in. First, you’ll want to click “Start A New FAFSA” on the website. This will take you to the page where you can create a new account.
Next, you will need a FAFSA ID, which gives you access to the Federal Student Aid online systems. It can also serve as a legal signature. If you don’t have one, the good news is that you can create one in minutes. However, it can take 1-3 days for the Social Security Administration to verify your information under some circumstances. Log in and begin your journey once you’ve finished that!
How to fill out your FAFSA application
You will need to provide a lot of information to fill out your FAFSA application. First, you will need to provide your Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number. You will also need your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned as well as bank statements and records of investments if you have any. If you are a dependent student, you will need your parents’ information.
The Student Demographics section is where you will enter your name, date of birth, and other details. You should enter your information exactly as it appears on your Social Security card.
In the School Selection section, you should enter every school you are considering — even if you have not been accepted yet. You can enter up to ten schools at a time, so don’t be shy. You can always remove schools if you decide not to apply or attend, though it is not necessary, If you decide not to attend, the school can disregard your application.
In the Dependency Status section, you will provide information about your parents to determine if you are a dependent. Congress sets these guidelines, which are different than those used by the Internal Revenue Service. You may be considered a dependent student for financial aid purposes even if you live on your own and support yourself.
The Parent Demographics section is, like the name suggests, where you provide basic demographic information about your parents. You have to fill out this section if you are classified as a dependent student. Otherwise, you can skip it.
However, some circumstances exist that allow you to skip this even if you are classified as dependent, including if you don’t know who your parents are or if you have left home because of an abusive environment. However, this can limit the aid you can receive to unsubsidized loans. If special circumstances exist, it is important that you contact the school’s financial aid office.
Your financial information
Next, you will enter you and your parents’ (if you are a dependent) financial information. To simplify this, FAFSA.gov provides a handy tool that will allow you to import your tax information. To use the tool, select “already completed” from the drop-down box when asked if you have completed your taxes. If you’re eligible, you’ll have the option to “link to IRS.”
Time to apply your John Hancock!
Now, it’s time to stand up and take a bow. Sign your FAFSA application using your FSA ID. If you are a dependent student, your parent will sign as well using their own FSA ID. Next, submit your application. If you prefer, you can print the signature page, sign it, and mail it in. However, this will delay processing.
When is the FAFSA Deadline?
As long as you submit your FAFSA application by the federal deadline of June 30, you’ll be considered for federal student aid. As for state deadlines. there is no easy answer to this question. Student aid deadlines vary state by state. Thankfully, the FAFSA.gov website provides you with a handy tool that allows you to find the exact date and time by which you must apply to be eligible for state-funded aid.
Be sure to submit your application by the FAFSA deadline because awards are given on a first-come-first-serve basis. All is not necessarily lost if the deadline has passed. However, you may have missed out on valuable aid funds.
You may still receive aid if all funds have not been claimed. Nevertheless, you should still submit your application as soon as possible.
The FAFSA application may seem daunting, but you should fill it out as early as possible to receive as much aid as you can. Your education is important, and federal student aid can open doorways even if don’t qualify for need-based aid. So fill it out and let your journey to higher education begin!
Featured image: CC0, by Wokandapix, via Pixabay