The FAFSA Form
The FAFSA is a federal financial aid form that is used to determine your eligibility for financial aid and is absolutely necessary if you are seeking scholarships and financial aid from any college or university. The FAFSA is available online at www.fafsa.gov beginning January 1 of your senior year in high school. It is recommended that you apply by February 1 of your senior year.
If you do not have exact information on your family’s income available by February 1, you should submit a FAFSA using estimates and meet the deadline rather than wait until all tax return data is available. When you file your application using estimates, you will later be asked to make corrections to your FAFSA.
It is critical to file early during your senior year, or you could jeopardize your eligibility for financial aid. Each year a limited amount of monies is available and when these funds have been awarded and thus depleted, there is no more money available until the following year. Financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Department of Education will then use a standard formula with the financial information you provided and produce a “Student Aid Report” (SAR) with your family’s expected contribution (EFC). This is the amount that the federal government suggests that your family can contribute toward your education. You are not required to make a payment of this amount, however.
Once you are admitted to a college, career or vocational school, the financial aid officer at the given school is the primary source of information regarding the financial aid package which can consist of grants, loans, work/ study, and scholarships. You should contact the financial aid officer for assistance. Unless there is a drastic change in your family finances, the family contribution and student expected contribution will not change.
You will need the following information to complete your FAFSA form:
- Your Social Security number.
- Your parents’ Social Security numbers if you are providing parent information.*
- Your driver’s license number if you have one.
- Your Alien Registration Number if you are not a U.S. citizen, Federal tax information, or tax returns including IRS W-2 information, for yourself and your spouse, if you are married, and for your parents if you are providing parent information.
- If you have not yet filed an income tax return, complete and submit the FAFSA using estimated tax information.
- Use income records for the year prior to the academic year for which you are applying. For instance, if you are filling out the 2010–11 FAFSA, you will need 2009 tax information.
- Records of your untaxed income, such as Social Security benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and Veterans benefits, for yourself, and for your parents if you are providing parent information.
- Information on savings, investments, business and farm assets for yourself, and for your parents if you are providing parent information.
- Also, if you plan to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov, you should apply for a PIN at least three days before filling out the application. Your Federal Student Aid PIN is the personal identification number you use when you visit certain U.S. Department of Education Websites. When you type in your PIN at these sites, you are saying either “Yes, it’s really me—please show me my personal information on this site” or “Please accept my PIN as my electronic signature on this online form.” If you need to provide information about your parents on the FAFSA, one of your parents should get a PIN as well. You and your parents can apply for PINs at www.pin.ed.gov
* Not sure whether you will need to put your parents’ information on the FAFSA? Check out “Am I Dependent or Independent?” at www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov/pubs or call (800) 4-FED-AID (800-433-3243).
For more information about federal student aid, see www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at (800) 4-FED-AID (800-433-3243) TTY: (800) 730-8913; Toll number for inquirers calling from foreign countries: 1-319-337-5665.
What is “Cost of Attendance?”
This is an estimate of how much money on average will be required to attend school for one year at the institutions in which you are interested, including all reasonable expenses. Most people, when budgeting for college, look at the tuition and assume that tuition is more or less the “price tag” for that school, when the reality is that tuition may be as little as 50% of the overall budget. Cost of miscellaneous/personal expenses.
What is “Need?”
Since financial aid is based on the concept of need, it is important that you understand the definition of “need.” Need is the difference between the total cost of attendance at the school of your choice and your family contribution, plus any aid you will receive from private sources. Need is determined by analysis of the data on your FAFSA form.
Financial Aid Package
If you qualify, you will receive a financial aid package from the college or university offering a combination of grants, loans, college work study, and scholarships based on the information you provided on your FAFSA form. Included will be a listing of dollar amounts awarded for each category.
After receiving the package offer, you may decide to accept or reject money in each category. Usually a decision to accept or reject must be made within 10 days. The financial aid package normally begins arriving by mail after April 1 of your senior year; final decisions must be made (usually) by early May. Scholarships awarded by local donors may decrease your total need as determined by the FAFSA analysis. The dollar amount of the local scholarship will normally be deducted from your financial package.
Myths About Financial Aid
Many students think they are not eligible for financial aid and fail to complete the FAFSA form. Here are some myths about financial aid and reasons why everyone should complete the FAFSA:
“…my parents make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
Reality: There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. Many factors besides income—from the size of your family to the age of your older parent—are taken into account. Your eligibility is determined by a mathematical formula, not by your parents’ income alone. And remember: when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re also automatically applying for funds from your state, and possibly from your school as well. Don’t make assumptions about what you’ll get—fill out the application and find out.
“…only students with good grades get financial aid.”
Reality: While a high grade point average will help a student get into a good school and may help with academic scholarships, most of the federal student aid programs do not take a student’s grades into consideration. Provided a student maintains satisfactory academic progress in his or her program of study in college, federal student aid will help a student with an average academic record complete his or her education.
“…you have to be a minority to get financial aid.”
Reality: Funds from federal student aid programs are awarded on the basis of financial need, not on the basis of race. The FAFSA doesn’t collect this kind of information about an applicant.
“…the form is too hard to fill out.”
Reality: The FAFSA is easier than ever, especially if you fill it out online at www.fafsa.gov. There are detailed instructions for every question, and the form walks you through step by step, asking only the questions that apply to you. If you need help, you can access a real-time, private online chat with a customer service representative. Remember, the FAFSA and all these sources of advice are FREE.