It feels like the college planning process is never-ending, doesn’t it? As a college planner, many of my clients have already submitted college applications, and now they have another major item on their to-do lists: Filing FAFSA. After all, getting applying and being accepted to college is only half the battle; Students and parents must also figure out how to pay for it.
The first step in figuring out what grants, work study programs, and loans they are eligible for is filling out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Student Financial Aid, or the FAFSA, is used to determine the amount of money a family is expected to contribute to the price of attending a postsecondary institution. FAFSA is used by most states and colleges as part of the student aid process. The form requests financial and personal information from both students and their parents.
In previous years, the FAFSA application wasn’t available until January 1st. However, this year is different. FAFSA became available online October 1, and it’s important to complete it as soon as possible because that will increase a student’s chances of getting the best financial aid packages available. Students who submit the FAFSA early receive about twice the grant money as those who file later. Families may use the data they reported on your 2015 tax returns. Collecting tax information from a previous tax year is also a change for FAFSA this year.
Another important reason to submit the FAFSA early is because many colleges have fast-approaching deadlines for certain financial aid packages. Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1st to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid. Also, some state grant programs distribute funds on a first-come, first-served basis, and those students who wait to apply may miss out, even if they qualified for aid. To determine the deadlines for each college on their lists, students can visit this page on FAFSA’s website: https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm.
As a college consultant, I’m routinely asked about FAFSA, and I thought I’d share some of the most frequently asked questions to help all students, not just my clients, avoid the FAFSA filing frenzy:
1) What is the FSA ID, and will I need it to complete the FAFSA?
The FSA ID allows students and parents to identify themselves electronically to access Federal Student Aid websites. The FSA ID, which consists of a user-created username and password, replaced the PIN effective March 2015. It allows users to electronically access personal information on Federal Student Aid website as well as electronically sign a FAFSA.
While you are not required to have an FSA ID to complete and submit a FAFSA on the Web application, it is the fastest way to sign your application and have it processed. It is also the only way to access or correct your information online, or to pre-fill a FAFSA on the Web application with information from your previous year’s FAFSA.
2) Is the FAFSA the only financial aid form I need to file?
Some states may require additional information, and some selective private colleges and universities require applicants to submit a CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which may ask for more financial details for nonfederal aid.
3) Will I need to fill out the FAFSA each year?
Yes. Because eligibility for federal student aid does not carry over from one award year to the next, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for each award year in which you are or plan to be a student.
Your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college.
4) How much financial aid am I eligible to receive?
The financial aid office at your college will determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Your eligibility for most federal student aid depends on a variety of factors, including your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your year in college, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the college you will be attending.
5) I sent in my FAFSA over four weeks ago but haven’t heard anything. What should I do?
If you haven’t received a Student Aid Report (SAR), call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (toll free) or 1-319-337-5665. You must provide them with your Social Security number and date of birth as verification.