FAFSA: 3 Things to Know Right Now!

by Melanie Studer
FAFSA: What You Need to Know Now!

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Your child’s college career could hinge on this one form.

Do not make the mistake of not filling out the FAFSA! Even if you think you won’t qualify, fill it out.

Filling out this form will determine whether or not your student will receive Federal Student Aid, BUT it will also determine any monies he/she will get 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! It is very important that you fill this out for many reasons. The due date is October 1, more on that below…

What is the purpose of the FAFSA?

–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, not the actual number that you will have to pay… 

–It is most likely that the EFC is going away. This is because it is such a misunderstood term. It is still around until about 2023, and I will keep you posted here!

It will probably be replaced a “student aid index” or SAI. In some ways, SAI is just a new term for a similar calculation. The following link is a bunch of gobbledy-gook about the bill that might change things. Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021

The number we received for our EFC 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 –how are we going to pay for college?!

Are you looking for answers as you parent teens? Here are more than 50 posts with all sorts of parenting situations and answers for you…

When should you 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 on the due date, again, this date is October 1.

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! 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. I will say it again, fill out the FAFSA!

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

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Fill out the FAFSA!

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 any time after it is released, 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. You might wait a week or two to complete it, maybe mid-October for the kinks to get worked out the first couple of weeks that it is available.

–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 check 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. Here is a link with due dates for you to refer to. 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!)

–You can start the FAFSA and save your progress, if you need to stop for some reason. This is a nice feature. Because it does take a while to fill out!

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 is one less out of your pocket, or your child’s.

** Be sure that you fill out the FAFSA each fall that you have a student planning to attend college the following year.

CSS Profile

Another form you may 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.)

I will say that, 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 before senior year. Weigh all of the options and do the math.

Will their major and work experience by the end of college provide your teen with a job that will give them the income needed to pay back their loans?

That is the low down on the FAFSA. It is not something to ignore or forget. It will make a difference to what your family will have to pay.

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

Other helpful posts:

How To Plan A College Budget With Your Teen

You Have An 18 Year Old: Be Aware Of These Little-Known Facts

27 Great Books For A Young Adult to Read For Success 

Best Tips for Applying to College

How Will We Pay For College?

29 Ways to Prepare For College

What Will My Teen Really Need in the Dorm?

Best Year Round Posts for Parenting Teens and Tweens: 50+ Titles!

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Fill out the FAFSA!

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Hello! My name is Melanie and I love to encourage moms of teens and tweens!

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