We are officially in financial aid season. The form used to apply for financial aid is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the application opened on October 1. Many families are intimidated by the FAFSA and confused about the relevancy of completing it. Let me say, there are resources to help in completing the form and it is necessary if you want your child to receive any type of funding from the college/university. By not completing it, you are saying you are prepared to write a check. Unfortunately, there was $2.7 Billion of unused federal grant awards in the last academic year. About 1.5 million high school graduates never completed the FAFSA, with an estimated amount of Pell Grant eligible being 747,579. People, simply are not applying because they assume they are not eligible. As you can see, this is not true. Don’t let this be you. Go and apply right now. To help you gain a better understanding on how to tackle the FAFSA, see the tips, resources and information covered below.
First, let’s understand how the FAFSA is used so you can understand it’s significance. The results of your FAFSA application helps colleges/universities determine how much aid your child is eligible for. It also determines what your role as a parent is in contributing to the funding of your child’s education. In laymen’s terms, what you must pay. This is dictated by the Expected Financial Contribution (EFC) calculation.
The key to the college admissions process is preparation and planning. The more prepared you are for the FAFSA, the easier the process will be for you to complete the application process. Here are 4 main phases to completing the FAFSA.
Phase One – Preparation
There are certain documents and files you will need to complete the application process. This is where I would suggest you create a checklist of items based on application details found on the FAFSA website. Since I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, my colleague and FAFSA guru, Dr. Gloria Ponce-Rodriquez, created the following FAFSA Prep sheet for her students and area school districts. Use this prep sheet to capture the required information you will need, get organized and track the application process. Here are the core items you will need to gather.
- Social security number
- Driver’s license number
- FSA ID
- 2016 Taxes
- A list of schools your child plan to apply to
- Records for untaxed funds (child support, veterans benefit, interest income, etc.)
- Asset(s) information
Phase Two – Obtain FSA ID
The FSA ID is the username and password you use on federal student aid websites: fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov. Your FSA ID identifies you as someone who has the right to access your own personal information on the Department of Education websites listed above.
Both the student and the parent need a FSA ID. It’s important to understand that the student and the parent may not share an FSA ID: Your FSA ID is your signature, so it has to be unique to you. Before you apply to the FAFSA on line you will need to have your FSA ID verified by Social Security Administration. If you are a parent of a dependent student, you will need your own FSA ID if you want to sign your child’s FAFSA electronically. If you have more than one child attending college, you can use the same FSA ID to sign all applications, but each child must have his or her own. Please note: Each FSA ID user must have a unique mobile phone number and/or email address.
Please note, this is a government process and these are government websites. So, you want to operate with honesty and keep your information protected. As your FSA ID is used to sign legally binding documents electronically, it has the same legal status as a written signature. Don’t give your FSA ID to anyone or allow anyone to create an FSA ID for you—not even your parent, your child, or someone helping you fill out the FAFSA. Sharing your FSA ID is like teaching someone to forge your signature; and it could put you at risk of identity theft!
Phase Three – FAFSA Application
Now, you will use the FSA ID and the information gathered to complete the FAFSA application. Although you can get your FSA ID prior to October 1st, you can not submit your FAFSA until October 1st. When it comes to awarding financial aid, it’s best to get it done early, as the early bird gets the worm when it comes to money. Don’t delay any further, make sure you get your application in as soon as possible, but definitely prior to your targeted colleges/universities financial aid deadlines.
When applying, the FAFSA will require information from both your student, as well as you, the parent(s) or guardian(s). Once you have completed and submitted the FAFSA online, you will receive a series of email communications. So, you will need to monitor your emails from Federal Student Aid for your FAFSA status.
- First email; is sent immediately after you submit the FAFSA (This is only a submission
- Second email; will be sent within 1-5 days to inform you of your FAFSA status, it’s either
“Processed Successfully” or “Action Required.” If Action Required, you will need to go back into the FAFSA and make corrections.
The FAFSA is a required step in the college admissions process. Don’t panic or fret, just prepare and allocate time to complete the process correctly. Before you take action, make note of the following tips:
- Use and verify the use of correct information: Name, date of birth and social (name must match what is on the social security card). Select the correct school year and tax return for IRS retrieval.
- Make sure male students register for Selective Services (this is required if you want to be eligible for aid)
- Don’t list extended family members as parents. (Only list biological, married, stepparent, adoptive parents. Do not include grandparents, uncle, aunt, sister, etc. or someone claiming you on their taxes).
- Do not pay anyone to do your FAFSA or to help you. There are people who say they can help you and say the process is confusing and/or difficult, don’t do it. The FAFSA is free and you can get free assistance by visiting the Help Section or contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). Also check out your child’s school, as many schools host financial aid workshops.
- Everyone should complete the FAFSA, regardless of income. Remember, no FAFSA, no chance at getting aid to pay for college. Don’t assume you won’t qualify for aid. There are different types of aid the school offers and they can’t determine eligibility nor award any aid without a completed FAFSA on file.
- Understand the EFC is what you as a parent will need to pay or your child need to earn in private scholarships. But, know it is not your total bill for college. (You can read more in my best-selling book, Parents: Send Your Child to College for FREE)
- Check the colleges/universities your child is applying too to see if they also require the CSS Profile and have additional financial aid requirements. You not only want to ensure you meet the deadlines, but also submit all required material.
You can do this! Utilize the information provided and the links to the resources to get you through the process.
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