So you’re asking yourself – Should I be completing the FAFSA?
Yes! No matter what you have heard about what you will get, or not get in financial aid everyone should fill out the FAFSA. There is simply no GOOD reason not to.
The FAFSA is Free
Completing the FAFSA is the first step in the Financial Aid process, and is the only way to be eligible for the most FREE and CHEAP money available.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The first and most important word in FAFSA is FREE. This is a free application/process, although there are entities who will charge a family to assist in completing the FAFSA. This is NOT necessary as there are several free resources to help a family in completing the FAFSA, such as any Financial Aid Office on any campus your young adult is, or may be thinking of, attending. Another free resource is the senior student’s high school guidance counselor. Families are also encouraged to seek out free educational events within their communities regarding the FAFSA and financial aid process, like high school financial aid nights and College Goal Sundays.
It’s Actually Pretty Easy
The FAFSA is an application which can be completed either on-line (recommended) or on good old fashion paper (come on, paper?). It collects demographic and financial information on the student and the student’s family. Most students will need to provide their family information as well as their own because under the federal government they are considered dependent students. Most students under the age of 24 are considered dependent. A student can be considered dependent whether or not the student lives with the parent(s).
You can find out whether your student is a dependent or independent student at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sites/default/files/fafsa-dependency.pdf. When accessing the on-line application you should use the following address www.fafsa.ed.gov. The on-line application has Smart Logic built into it so families will only be asked questions that pertain to their student and family, and they can even download all relative tax information with a push of the button if they file their taxes electronically.
Yes, there are a good chunk of questions, but guess what? They are ALL about you! Take your time and it’s actually pretty easy!
Fill it Out Annually
The FAFSA is an annual application that can be completed starting January 1st of the student’s upcoming school year. Families with a student who will begin college in the fall as a freshman will complete the FAFSA January 1st of their student’s senior year in high school. Families should complete the FAFSA as close to the January 1st date as possible, but at the very least they should complete by the FAFSA deadlines of each of the colleges that their student is applying to.
Most schools will post such deadline on their financial aid website. Completing the FAFSA early ensures access to the most FREE (scholarships and grants) and CHEAP (low-cost federal loans) financial aid available. Even Federal Work Study, which is a federal award program that offers student’s the opportunity to work on campus for funds to put towards their cost of attendance is awarded on a first come, first serve basis.
Beat the Deadlines
As stated previously, the FAFSA collects income and asset information on the student and their families. Income information is collected from W2’s and tax returns. Most families will complete the FAFSA using their most current information, but there are instances where for a variety of reasons families may file their taxes later in the season, yet they need to meet earlier school FAFSA deadlines. In these cases, families should use their W2’s and tax returns from the previous year and complete an “estimated FAFSA”.
Once they file their tax returns for the present year they can go back into their completed FAFSA and make any necessary updates. For example, your student is going to be a freshman in the 2014-2015 academic school year. You are going to complete the FAFSA sometime after January 1st, 2014. Your earliest school FAFSA deadline is February 15, 2014, yet you do not intend to file your 2013 tax returns until later in March 2014. You would complete the FAFSA using your 2012 W2’s and tax return. Once you complete your 2013 tax returns you will go back in and modify your previously completed FAFSA, as needed.
Believe me, I know it can seem daunting, but if you use the tools available and take your time, it’s not bad at all. And the work you put in up front can save you so much more in time, energy and MONEY in the long run.
If you need help with your FAFSA, or have questions about financial aid in general, use our ScholarHelp tool to submit your questions. It’s free and easy so don’t hesitate!