Students who hope to utilize federal funds for their college educations will need to begin by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Here, they’ll provide information about their financial health, and the wealth of the family as a whole, and they’ll outline where they plan to go to school. There’s a lot of information involved, and not surprisingly, many students give up on filling out the form before the work is complete. For example, in 2012, 4 percent of high school students started to fill out the form and gave up before they were done, according to the American Institutes for Research. Perhaps, if these students studied up on FAFSA requirements, they’d be less likely to ditch the work before it’s completed.
Typical Records Required
Much of the FAFSA is devoted to information about a student’s identity and citizenship status. As a result, students are required to provide:
- Their Social Security Number
- Their driver’s license number
- Their Alien Registration Number (if the student isn’t a citizen of the United States)
- The Social Security Number of parents (if the student isn’t considered financially independent)
All of this information can help administrators to determine whether or not the student is a resident of the United States, and the information might also be provided to help check on the student’s financial background and history.
In addition to records concerning identity, the FAFSA demands a significant amount of information regarding finances. Much of this information can be pulled from that year’s tax forms, but students should also be prepared to know the balances of their checking accounts, savings accounts, bond accounts, stock market accounts and more, and they’ll need that same information from parents.
U.S. Citizen or Eligible Non-Citizen
One of the first eligibility requirements of obtaining a FAFSA is proof of your identity and citizenship status. You will need to provide both your valid Social Security number and driver’s license number, proving that you are a citizen of the United States. Students from the Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands do not need a valid Social Security number. If you are not financially independent, your parent’s Social Security number will also be required. If you are a non-citizen, you must provide your Alien Registration Number. Eligible non-citizens include U.S. nationals who are natives of Swains Island or American Samoa; U.S. permanent residents carrying I-151, I-551 or I-551C Resident Cards; people with battered immigrant statuses; persons holding a T-Visa or having a parent with a T-1 Visa; or people who have an Arrival-Departure Record from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
High School Diploma or GED
You must also prove that you are qualified to seek higher education in the form of college or career school. To do so, you must have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent like a Generalized Educational Development (GED) certificate. If you were homeschooled, you are still eligible if you can prove high school completion in a homeschool setting that is approved by state law. FAFSA also requires that you indicate your choice of college and maintain satisfactory academic progress while you are enrolled in the program.
Males Between 18 and 25 Must Be Members of U.S. Selective Service
If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must register with the U.S. Selective Service in order to be eligible. Males in the United States are required by law to register for this within 30 days of their 18th birthday. You can register at any U.S. post office, and you do not need a Social Security number to do so. Registration in the program ensures your participation in U.S. government programs.
Financial Aid Used for Educational Purposes Only
In order to qualify for federal aid, you will have to sign a statement promising that you will only use the federal funds for educational purposes. Federal student aid is intended to go towards the cost of higher education and nothing else. Depending on the type of loan you receive, these funds can help pay for education expenses including tuition, school fees, and room and board.
No Loans in Default or Owing on Any Federal Grants
You also will be required to sign a statement indicating that you have no current loans that are in default. Default is when you fail to pay your loan based on the terms you agreed to in the promissory note. Typically, you are considered in default if you haven’t made a payment in 270 days, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
No money can be owed on a federal student grant either. A grant is a type of financial aid, usually based on financial need, that doesn’t typically need to be repaid unless you withdraw from school.
Not Ever Found Guilty of Possessing or Selling Illegal Drugs
Another requirement for obtaining and remaining eligible for federal funds is that you not be found guilty of illegal drug possession or be found guilty for selling illegal drugs while you are receiving federal funds. If this happens, your funds may be suspended. You can, however, possibly regain your eligibility if you complete an approved drug rehabilitation program or pass two unannounced drug tests facilitated by an approved drug rehabilitation program. If convicted of a drug-related offense, you may also have to return any funds received during your period of ineligibility.
Obtaining a FSA ID
A FSA ID is what you use to electronically apply for federal student aid each year. It also serves to give you access to your Federal Student Aid records online and should be kept safe and not shared with anyone.
In order to create a FSA ID, which serves as your electronic signature and provides access to your personal records, you must enter your personal information on the FSA ID website. You can also reset your password if you have forgotten it from the same website.
The document generated by the FAFSA on the Web that contains your name, address, student ID, type of application completed, and a randomly generated identification number is called your signature page. You can print, sign, and mail your FAFSA application with your signature page in order to verify the accuracy of your information provided. It is faster to use your FSA ID and sign your FAFSA electronically, however.
Signing the signature page certifies that you agree to provide information to verify the accuracy of your FAFSA, that you agree to use your federal funds for education purposes only, and that you are not in default on a federal loan or owe any overpayments for federal grants. You can be sent to prison, fined up to $20,000, or both for purposely providing false information on your FAFSA.
There are several deadlines to be aware of when filing your FAFSA. These deadlines exist on the federal and state level, and your individual college may also have FAFSA deadlines for filing. Different colleges may have different rules about deadlines as well – for example, some consider the deadline the day they receive your FAFSA, and others may consider the deadline date the day the FAFSA is fully processed. Applicants need to be aware of all deadlines. To find out about deadlines set by your state and federal agencies, you can check on the Federal Financial Aid deadlines page.
The federal processor begins processing applications after January 1st, so in order to ensure you meet all deadlines, consider filing early. Much of the federal financial aid is distributed on a first-come first-serve basis, so there are many benefits to filing early.
Moving Through the Process
By now, most students are at least aware of what a FAFSA is. For example, a report produced by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education found that 64 percent of all Minnesota students enrolled in undergraduate programs applied for aid with a FAFSA. But knowing that the form is out there, and even filling out the form in the past, doesn’t guarantee current success. The form is complicated, and there are some specific tips and tricks students should keep in mind.
For example, the FAFSA requires students to list at least one college they’re considering. Those students who are hoping to change schools, but who haven’t quite decided where they’d like to go, can’t just guess or leave the field blank. They’ll need to put the name of a school here.
Similarly, students are required to go through a series of questions that help them to determine whether or not they’re considered financially independent. These questions can seem intrusive or redundant, particularly for students who have filled out the form in the past, but it’s a vital part of the application process and it can’t be skipped.
It’s also important to remember that the FAFSA must be filled out each and every year. The information isn’t held over from one year to another, and the data a student enters in one year doesn’t impact decisions made in the next. When January rolls around, students simply must fill out the form again.