Demystifying the FAFSA
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA. You might have seen that odd-looking, strange-sounding acronym before, somewhere during your planning-for-college process. Perhaps you heard your parents discussing it, and at the very mention of a form you shut your ears off. Somehow, the FAFSA has acquired a notoriety for boredom that we normally associate with tax law or the Dark Ages. This is just simply incorrect – the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is easier to complete than most people think, and is essential to receiving free and almost-free money for college.
What happens if I don’t file my FAFSA?
If you don’t file the FAFSA, you forfeit your chance to receive federal aid. This can mean leaving thousands of dollars in low-interest, potentially subsidized, federal loans on the table. All colleges and universities also require the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for their own grants and scholarships.
- Your social security number
- Your driver’s license information
- Your past year’s W2 form
- Your parents’ (or if you are filing as an independent student, your) past year’s federal income tax returns (1040)
- Your past year’s income records before taxes
- Your current bank statement
- Your current business and investment mortgage information, if applicable
- Your business and farm records, if applicable
- Your stock, bond, and other investment records, if applicable
- Your alien registration or a permanent resident card, if you aren’t a U.S. citizen.
For the list as it appears on the official site, and to file the online application, please visit www.fafsa.ed.gov. You can also visit your high school guidance counselor, your college financial aid office, or local public library for a hard-copy application.
That is a lot of information. How long will it take to complete the FAFSA?
Yes, that’s a lot of financial and personal documentation. And yes, it won’t be fun gathering those forms. But it is a lot harder to gather information and file your FAFSA simultaneously. If you have your information in advance, the application can take a little under an hour to complete. Your best bet is to gather information one to two weeks prior to completing the FAFSA and to file your application as soon as you can. Many schools have a policy of first come first serve, so try to file your FAFSA as soon as the current application is available on the website. This will ensure that you are one of the first to be considered for free money.
The FAFSA in a nutshell:
Filling out your FAFSA is the only way you can be recognized as eligible for federal, need-based aid. Even if you know your EFC is well below the cost of attendance, and even if you’re filing as an independent student with absolutely no money to pay for school – if you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you won’t receive federal aid. As you’ve hopefully read on this blog before, federal aid is the best kind of aid to receive. If you file your FAFSA and your EFC is below your school’s cost of attendance (COA), congratulations, you’ll be receiving some amount of federal aid.
Education about federal aid is extremely important. Many students across the country don’t fill out the FAFSA year after year because they assume they won’t qualify for aid. Unless paying for a college education is just a drop in the bucket of your family’s finances, you should definitely submit the form. Any college student is eligible to receive aid if their EFC is less than the COA, from four-year students to students at community colleges, who are actually more likely to receive federal aid, but less likely to file the FAFSA. As long as you are working towards a degree, you can be eligible, and should file.
So, ladies and gentlemen, students and parents, the moral of today’s story – please, please, fill out your FAFSA. You’ll be doing yourself, and your wallets, a huge favor.
- FAFSA Home
- FAFSA Season and the Financial Aid Reality Check
- Filling it out for the Self-Employed
- Financial Stability
- How to Determine Independent or Dependent Student Status
- Revising: A Primer for Parents
- The Calculations Behind the Application
- The FAFSA: That Wasn't So Bad After All
- The FAFSA: Your gateway to financial aid
- Tips on Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- To-Do Lists, Anxiety, and Preparing for College
- Why Submit the FAFSA?
- You filed the application, but¦ do you know what it stands for?