Affordability is one of the single most significant barriers to higher education in the United States. Expenses can’t simply be boiled down to tuition, either. Filling out the FAFSA form can help. There are a whole host of extra expenses that a student needs to consider, such as:
- Room and board when staying in a dorm.
- Books and course materials.
- Equipment required for specific majors (such as music majors needing instruments, art majors requiring art supplies, etc.).
- Transportation if you live off-campus.
- Personal expenses such as healthcare, cell phone, etc.
The final cost of higher education can be astronomical. Seeking financial aid is almost always the best course of action to get yourself started. Below we will talk about what FAFSA is, how to fill out the form, and other tips and tricks to know before you begin completing the FAFSA form.
What is FAFSA, and Why Does it Matter?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a portal provided by the Department of Education to allow prospective students to access government-backed financial aid. These can include:
- Government grants.
- Government-backed student loans.
- Work-study programs.
- Need-based school grants.
Filling out the FAFSA form allows you to get approval for one or more of these financial aid solutions. The FAFSA asks a series of questions then compiles all the information you input to generate an EFC–Estimated Family Contribution. This will determine if you are eligible for financial aid and exactly how much you will be getting in total. The general information needed for the EFC is:
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- Personal and family income are both taxed and untaxed.
- Personal and family assets.
- Parent(s) age.
- Household size.
- The number of children going to university.
How to Fill Out Your FAFSA Form.
Before you even begin filling out your FAFSA forms, you should determine if you fit the eligibility requirements and your dependency status i.e., are you an independent student or a dependent student. You should fill out FAFSA forms if you meet one or more of the following requirements:
- Are you a US citizen or a legal resident of the USA?
- Have a valid Social Security number.
- Have demonstrated a need for financial aid.
- Have a high school diploma or GED.
- Are enrolling in an eligible degree or certification program.
- Have maintained minimum satisfactory education standards and progress.
- Are not currently in default on any other student loans.
- You are a male who has enrolled in Selective Service.
Now, once you determine your eligibility, you can begin filling out your FAFSA forms! FAFSA forms can be filled out online via the Online FAFSA Application Form. Or, you can also contact their helpline at 1-800-433-3243 and request a paper form be delivered to you.
FAFSA forms are available from October 1st until June the year following. However, it is advised that you always submit yours before October 15th because some schools grant you money simply for filling out the FAFSA.
Before you begin filling out the form, you should log into the website and create a FAFSA ID, username, and password for both the student and parent. Next, you will be prompted to begin filling out the form. The FAFSA questions walk you through the financial information needed to make a decision and will finish with a digital signature that acts as a legally binding agreement that all the information in the form is accurate and relevant to you.
You will need:
- Your full name.
- Date of birth.
- Contact information.
- Alien Registration Number (for non-US citizens).
- Driver’s license numDriver’sizenship status.
- Marital status.
- Name of High School.
Once you reach the financial section of the FAFSA document, select ‘Link to IRS’, to use the IRS data retrieval tool (IRS drt) to import your information. This will link all of your relevant tax information that the IRS has on file for you and your parent(s). If your parent or legal guardian does not wish to use the data retrieval tool (drt) to link their tax information they can complete it manually using your SAVE KEY to log in.
Here you will need to select the schools that you plan on applying to on your FAFSA form. When using the online form, you can have your data sent out to up to 10 schools maximum per application.
Finally, you will need to sign and submit your FAFSA form, by using your FAFSA ID, as well as the FAFSA ID your parent(s) created to give your digital signatures. Once that is done, you are free to submit your FAFSA form!
What Happens Next?
Once you submit the FAFSA form, you will receive a SAR–Student Aid Report–within 24 to 48 hours. This will detail all the information you put into the FAFSA form.
After that, you will receive letters from each school on your FAFSA form detailing how much you qualified for and what you are entitled to receive.
It’s crucial to submit your FAFSA paperwork as soon as you possibly can after October 1st. The earlier you submit the paperwork, the faster you are likely to know what financial aid you are receiving. This will help you when planning your fiscal future at school.
It’s also important to know that everyone should apply for financial aid–whether you think you qualify or not. Often people avoid applying because they feel like they would be somehow taking a charity or a hand-out. You should never forget that these grants and financial aid services are government-backed and designed to help everyone afford college. Unless you have a full-ride scholarship, you should be applying for financial aid!
Finally, FAFSA is a free form available to everyone who is a citizen or legal US resident. If you ever come across a service asking you to pay to file for FAFSA, it is a scam and should be reported to the authorities!
Filling out a FAFSA form can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare-ish experience. It can be done in a single day, with just a few clicks and boxes filled.
Make sure to ask for help from your parents or legal guardian. They can ensure that you are filling everything out correctly by being the second set of eyes!
For more information about filling out the FAFSA read these posts:
And remember, if you need any advice or assistance on your FAFSA form, we are here to help. HelloCollege offers expert consulting in financial aid and college enrollment to students just like you. Reach out today to learn how we can help make your enrollment and application process easier!