Fall is For FAFSA

October 1 of each year marks the date that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) becomes available. Students who wish to receive any form of student loan or grant from the federal government must complete and submit it. Most states and colleges also require completion before schools offering aid and formulating a financial aid package.  Even some scholarship foundations and other private grantees will ask for the FAFSA.  

The financial aid process can feel somewhat mysterious for both students and their families.  The first step is to complete the form.  It is available on the StudentAid.Gov website and can be submitted online or mailed.  If sent in electronically, the Department of Education processes your application in about three days, and then makes the information available to all of the schools you chose to list on the form.  Each school then uses the information you documented on the FAFSA to determine how much aid you are eligible to receive if you attend that school. Aid can be a combination of subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, grants, and scholarships. 

To determine a student’s financial package, the financial aid office evaluates a complex formula.  The parts of the formula are the cost of attendance (COA) and an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The outcome of this formula will determine the amount and mix of student financial aid. 

Cost of Attendance. The COA takes into account the variety of costs that the student will incur in order to reasonably complete their education.  This calculation includes tuition and fees, living expenses such as lodging and food, books and related resources, dependent care expenses if the student is a caregiver, travel to and from the school, costs of disability accommodation, and reasonable study abroad costs if applicable.  

Expected Family Contribution. The EFT is the portion of costs that the student and family are expected to pay toward the cost of attendance.  The EFT is also a formula, and factors in the size of the student’s family, the number of students attending higher education (for now), most forms of income, and certain assets. Whether home equity is considered or not can depend on requirements of some private institutions

Be careful with deadlines.  While the FAFSA can be completed and submitted any time between October 1 and June 30, many schools have earlier deadlines, especially for specific scholarships and grants.  Additionally, even some federal grants are available on a first-come-first-served basis, and the opportunity for those funds can close once the budget is used. 

Next year, there will be many changes happening to the FAFSA application.  These changes will not be in effect until the 2023-2024 application period, but they will be discussed in an upcoming post so families can plan accordingly. 

Fall is for FAFSA

Image by Free-Photos from PixabayOctober is the first full month of fall, which brings cooler temperatures, pumpkin spice, changing leaves, and the start of FAFSA season. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, open date was October 1, the first date users could file an application.  

What if you are not planning to apply for student loans?  Fill out the FAFSA anyway! The FAFSA is a gateway to be eligible for most scholarships and grants, even those which are not need-based. Almost all require the FAFSA, so you should still plan to complete it. 

The FAFSA appears long but the document is ten pages including instructions and explanations. With a little preparation you can reduce the burden of filing these important forms. Here are some suggestions to make the process easier and less stressful.  

  1. Get ready. Set aside a block of time to complete the form.  Putting time on the calendar is like making a commitment to yourself to dedicate that time for the FAFSA. I suggest that students and parents take this time together.  Plan for a few hours, especially if it is your first time completing the form. First time students should log into the FAFSA website to get an ID and explore the information found at StudentAid.gov
  2. Get set. The form requires documenting several types of identification, financial information for both students and families, and college information.  Prior to filling out the form, gather this information so you can avoid the frustration of having to find it while working on the document. You will need the following, if applicable:
  • Social Security Number for parents and student (or permanent resident number)
  • Date of birth and school information of parents and student
  • Driver’s license 
  • Alien Registration or Permanent Resident Card (if not a US citizen)
  • W-2 tax forms and other records of money earned
  • Copies of federal tax forms from 2017 from students and parents, if available
  • Foreign tax return (if any)
  • Untaxed income records (such as child support received and untaxed pensions)
  • Bank statements for checking, savings and other investment accounts owned by the student and parents
  • Other investment records, including 529 plans or other prepaid college plans 
  • List of colleges and other schools the student wishes to apply to. This list can be changed later. 
  1. Go!  Don’t wait.  Many grants have limited funding, and may not be available to those who delay.  What advice do the experts give for conquering the FAFSA? Julie Yang, M. Ed., is the College and Career Coordinator at Magruder High School in Montgomery County, Md. with excellent advice: “I encourage parent(s) and student do the FAFSA together. Take it as an opportunity to open conversations on the importance of financial planning and make it a shared experience of planning for the future,” she suggests. Talk about future plans, aspirations, and goals.  When you are done, you can celebrate getting one step closer to reaching those goals!