Understand The FAFSA Submission Process

The Essentials

1. The FAFSA Defined

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the basic application form that is required from any student who wishes to apply for federal financial aid. The FAFSA is the measuring stick for your EFC, or Expected Family Contribution. Video: Do You Know What The Acronym Means?

2. Need-Based Qualification

Your EFC is how much the government believes your family can contribute to your college tuition that year. If your EFC is less than the cost of attendance, you qualify for need-based aid. Many families qualify for need-based aid, but this can only be determined if you fill out the FAFSA.

3. Foregoing Filing for Aid

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. Most colleges and universities also require the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for their own grants and scholarships.

4. Initial Submission Process

Federal aid is limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so applying early is recommended. If an applicant has already submitted a FAFSA, that applicant can still submit a FAFSA for renewal or alteration to the previous information given. After review by a federal processor, the student will receive a Student Aid Report that summarizes the information provided on the FAFSA. If there are no errors, an electronic version is sent to the schools the student selected on the FAFSA.

Eligibility Criteria for FAFSA and Financial Aid:

Getting Ready

A FAFSA provides a snapshot of a family’s ability to cover the costs associated with higher education. Not surprisingly, then, there’s a significant amount of paperwork involved, and families have a lot of data to gather, such as:

The FAFSA can be a complicated form, and it’s imperative for students to go slowly and deliberately. Setting aside the proper amount of time can help. Typically, families who prepare to spend a half hour on form completion will have more than enough time. The average amount of time needed is 22 minutes.


Source: https://blog.ed.gov/2012/01/how-will-you-pay-for-college/


Options for Filing

Many important functions that were once completed with pen and paper are now done electronically. The U.S. Department of Education has joined this trend, and as a result, the FAFSA is available online.

Filling out the form this way can be beneficial, as it can provide students with:

  • A faster turnaround time
  • Automatic error correction
  • Online help
  • Ease of use
  • Income estimation tools, in case taxes aren’t done yet
  • Retrieval tools that can pull info directly from the IRS

1 in 5 households in 2013 had no internet access according to the United States Census Bureau. Thankfully, lots of colleges and universities computers available in their financial aid offices, so students can fill out the FAFSA online, regardless of whether or not they have computers at home. This is a better option than using a public computer with unsecured access to the Internet, especially since you need to provide a great deal of confidential information when completing the FAFSA.

Avoiding Common Problems

As mentioned, the FAFSA is a difficult form, and not surprisingly, some students fail to get things right, much as they might try to do so.

While most individuals submit their FAFSAs with no errors, 22% of submissions contain some type of error.


Source: https://www.ticas.org/sites/default/files/pub_files/AfterFAFSA.pdf

These are silly-seeming mistakes, but they can have a big impact on a student’s ability to get needed funding. Checking the paper form, and then checking it again, is the best way to prevent these errors. Luckily, many of these errors can be avoided by completing the electronic form which will prevents families from proceeding and/or submitting the form.

Getting Help

A similar number of students might hate working with the FAFSA, especially since they’re expected to work with the form each and every year that they attend school. But if students hate the form because it’s time consuming and confusing, there are educational resources that can help. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education suggests that students in trouble can:

It might be a hassle, even though it doesn’t take all that long to complete, but you only have to do it once a year, which isn’t so bad. Plus, once you actually submit the FAFSA, you’ll be (hopefully) well on the way to getting a much-needed financial aid award.