FAFSA: What You Need to Know Right Now!

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Why fill out the FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  Your child’s college career could hinge on this one form. Fill out the FAFSA!  Even if you think you won’t qualify, fill it out.  The FAFSA will determine whether or not your student will receive Federal Student Aid.  It will ALSO determine any monies he or she will receive from the schools that they apply to as well.

Most schools will require you to fill this out, so do it right away. In other words, the information that is provided when filling out this form could help your family to get more money from different colleges! Read our post on applying for colleges.

It is very important that you fill this out for many reasons.  The due date is October 1, more on that below…

–The main purpose of the FAFSA is to determine your EFC.  This is an acronym for the Expected Family Contribution.  This is a number determined by your answers on the FAFSA.  It is a calculated number that the government thinks that your family should be able to pay towards your child’s college.

The number we received would work if both my husband and I each had full time, high paying jobs, and we lived on pork and beans every night, and never did anything that cost any money! In other words, don’t expect for your EFC to be realistic!  This is a whole other blog post topic!

When to fill out the FAFSA:

–You need to fill out the FAFSA–no matter what!  And, fill it out in a timely manner.  In other words, do this by the due date, again, the date is October 1.  This is a suggested due date, however, all of these scholarship packages will be determined by this information, so don’t delay too much longer.  

Yes, it does determine the need-based federal aid money for students who need it.  But, it also helps schools determine the money that they give out for merit-based aid.  This is FREE money for your student.  Schools give out the money on a first come, first serve basis, so if you want any chance of merit-based aid, fill that puppy out.  

–The FAFSA is NOT JUST for need-based aid.  We thought about not filling it out because we knew that we would not qualify for the need-based aid.  But, by just filling out the FAFSA, my son receives $1000 off of his yearly tuition.  Even if he qualified for no other scholarships, they reward this amount for filling out the form!  So, check with your child’s college and see if there is a similar situation.  Aid is often determined by the numbers that you put on this form.   

–After the FAFSA due date has arrived, each college starts rewarding their merit-based aid.  This is determined by the FAFSA, GPA, and various other factors such as ACT/SAT scores and strength of resumes.  This is where hard work during high school; both in class and out will really help!  Your student will start to hear back from colleges after they have applied.  Each school will send out letters of acceptance and denial.  

–In acceptance letters, colleges will include their financial aid package.  These could just be estimates, so read carefully.  Keep track of all offers, and use them to get colleges to compete with each other to get your student to attend their particular school.  A financial aid package can be appealed and should be, if your child really wants one school, but got a better package from another, let their favored school know.  This is expected and it can work!  

–As your child finishes up the first semester of their senior year in high school, send updates of their GPA and resume to each school for which they have applied.  It is still early in the game, and this can help with a better financial aid package.  This is a good time to start talking about their budget in college if you haven’t already!

If a life-changing experience has occurred, such as:  divorce, a death in the family or some sort of accident, let the college know.  This is information schools need that could make a difference to the bottom line!

How to fill out the FAFSA:

–FIRST, go to Fafsa.ed.gov and create a FSA ID for both you and your child.  Then, fill out the FAFSA4caster.  This will give you an idea of how to fill out the actual form when it is time.  It will also give you an idea of all of the information you will need for filling out the dang thing!  You will need your federal tax information, social security number, W2s, and any asset information.  Filling out the 4caster will give you an idea of aid eligibility for decision making.  Do this now, as in after you finish reading this blog post.   

–SECOND, when you are ready, log back into the FAFSA website, and get this form filled out so that you can submit it right on the due date which is October 1.  It is a process, and not something that you want to think that you can do quickly some evening!  Take your time.  

–DO NOT make any errors on the FAFSA!  Triple check and then check again that you have entered everything on the form correctly.  Have your spouse or significant other checks it as well, a new pair of eyes can catch mistakes that you have overlooked the first 3 times that you checked for mistakes.  Mistakes will lead to delays in your child receiving financial aid.

 

–Your child does not have to decide on a school at the time that you fill out the FAFSA, but fill it out anyway ON TIME or soon thereafter.***  Once you have filled out the FAFSA for your oldest, then you will have to continue to re-submit yearly.  (This is so that the government can check your child’s eligibility status, which will change if your finances change or you have more than one kid in college!)

There is a renewal option with some categories which will be pre-populated, but check all of this information carefully and make sure that it is all up-to-date.  Most of the new info needed will be based on taxes paid.  

Once the FAFSA is filled out, be sure that the colleges of choice are notified that you have submitted the complete form.  This is also a good time to check each college’s website for admissions requirements and scholarship opportunities at the school.  You really need to dig for this information sometimes, but is worth the extra effort.  Every penny that your child is given by the college, is one less penny out of your pocket, or your child’s!

Another form you might need to fill out is the CSS Profile. https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile.  This asks for lots more information than the FAFSA but is necessary for many private colleges.  This is how they decide to distribute their non-federal aid, in other words, merit-based aid.  It is $25 for the first college you have to submit this to and $16 for each college after.  (I will say, we didn’t have to do this for my son who is attending a private school.  He received a much larger financial aid package from this private school than the local state school–many thousands more, so filling this out might be helpful if they require it.  Make sure it’s necessary before filling it out though.)

In my opinion, getting student loans may not be worth it in the end. Is a gap year for better finances an option?  Outside scholarships are great, but start looking for your senior year.  Weigh all of your options and do the math.  Will your major and work experience by the end of college provide you hopefully with a job that will give you the income needed to pay back your loans?  Student loans are a whole other blog post as well because they are terrible things to start your life with after college.

So, that is the low down on the FAFSA.  It is not something to ignore or forget.  It will make a difference to what you and your family will have to pay.

Fill the FAFSA out every year because financial aid is determined yearly.

*One note, it is NOT due by October 1.  However, that is the first day that it will be accepted.  Don’t wait to get around to it.  It is something you need to make time for very soon.  It is true that schools will give out monies based on the fact that the FAFSA is submitted.  Many schools have already started accepting students.  Scholarship packages will be assigned based on this information, so don’t delay too much:)

Here are a couple of resources that you can visit for more information.

www.studentaid.gov/fafsa

https://blog.ed.gov/2015/12/parents-guide-completing-fafsa/

www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/2015/02/05/5-myths-about-parent-information-on-the-fafsa

www.forbes.com/sites/robertfarrington/2014/04/10/eight-financial-aid-secrets-that-parents-and-students-need-to-know/#75892dd16bc6

Now, go fill it out!!

Let us know how it goes!