Why submit the FAFSA?
The race for financial aid funding begins early each year, during a short window in the winter when key pieces of information are submitted to the colleges and universities that your child might attend the following fall. You should approach this time with one crucial item in your dashboard – the FAFSA.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Developed by the U.S. Department of Education in the 1990s, the FAFSA is intended to help schools make fair decisions about how and to whom they award need-based financial aid dollars.
Fair decisions can be made because the FAFSA allows for an evaluation of family financial circumstances that is consistent and equitable across all applicants.
- The primary responsibility for paying for education rests with the parents of dependent children, and
- The students themselves are expected to contribute a reasonable portion of the educational expenses.
Each edition of the FAFSA is issued on January 1st of each year and is available at fafsa.ed.gov. Filing online is recommended for both speed of transmission and accuracy of information. However, you can choose to use a hard copy to submit the application. Forms should be available at your high school’s guidance or college counseling office or at the college or university’s financial aid office.
Parents of a students in their junior year of high school or younger don’t have to worry about filling out a FAFSA…yet.
If you are the parent of a current high school senior – or a current college student – and you hope to receive any form of financial aid for your child’s education, then you MUST submit the FAFSA. Try to do submit it as soon as possible in the New Year, perhaps in parallel with the preparation of your most recent income tax returns.
- Only students with high grades or test scores get all the aid.
- Only extremely financially needy students can receive aid, so if your family income is high, then don’t bother to apply.
- If your older son or daughter didn’t qualify for aid, then neither will your other children.
Truthfully, the vast majority of financial aid dollars go, as they should, to those who truly need the money. Merit funding (or aid based on grades, test scores or other non-financial criteria) is available, but only at some schools, and in fairly limited quantity. Merit dollars are growing faster than need-based funding, but many of the most selective schools in particular have more than their share of deserving – and high-achieving – applicants. They have adopted a “need-blind” policy, which means students are evaluated for admission on their academic merit alone, thus not judging students on what their financial contribution to the college could be. This admissions policy protects lower-income students from rejection in favor of full-pay students, and it improves the aid given by the school.
Financial aid does not just mean scholarships and grants, or “free money.” Financial aid actually refers to money to help pay for college that is awarded (the free money), paid in return for work-study, or loaned with the backing of the U.S. government.
If you want your child to be eligible for any or all of these types of financial aid, then you must complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as you can in the year your child will start their postsecondary education. If you haven’t done so, and you have a student in their second, third, forth, or even fifth year of college, you should still submit the FAFSA to qualify for aid for the remaining college expenses.
Deadlines vary from school to school but no school will award a cent of need-based aid until the FAFSA has been reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education and by the school’s financial aid office. In fact, some schools require information beyond what is contained in the FAFSA, either on forms they have created themselves, or on a form called a PROFILE provided by The College Board. Check with the college or university to see whether they require more than just a FAFSA.
Written by Jim Boyle, President of College Parents of America