What is the FAFSA? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid assists in determining your (the student's) financial need for college. Many have mixed emotions about the FAFSA, but quite frankly, it is a must, just like filing your taxes each year and it's certainly not as difficult. You see the hard work has already been done. You have prepared and filed your 2017 tax forms (what you filed in April of 2018) and it is that paperwork from which you will draw most of the needed information to complete your FAFSA. Once logged in, it only takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Here are some important things you should know:
1. You need a login for both the parent and student and that can be done today.
2. The key word in FAFSA is FREE- you should never have to pay to file the FAFSA. Be sure to only use https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa (new look this year) to complete the application. Other websites may appear in your Goggle search but at the end of the forms, they will ask for a credit card number to file - don't fall for it!
3. EVERYONE should complete the FAFSA - even if you're Bill Gates. Financial circumstances may change between October of high school senior year and August of college freshman year and if you don't have a FAFSA on file, the financial aid office cannot help you in any way. Also, most schools require having a FAFSA on file to receive merit based awards as well as need based awards.
4. Most families can use the IRS Date Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to import information from their 2017 taxes right into the FAFSA form. Exceptions can be found here.
5. Financial assistance is more likely at private schools and filing is a must.
6. You must complete a FAFSA for every year your student is enrolled in college. Just because you filed one last fall doesn't mean you're off the hook, you must do it again. Also, each college student needs to have one on file so if you have multiple siblings in school, each needs their own account. The good news is, once you file one FAFSA you can transfer over most of the information for the other child, but there is only ONE opportunity to do so. The link is on the CONFIRMATION page after you submit the first FAFSA. You cannot return to the Confirmation page later to use the link.
7. Financial Aid is distributed on a "first come, first served" basis, so get it completed early. Each school and state have priority deadlines and you don't want to miss them. The beauty of the new earlier date for filing (it used to open in January) is that you can receive your financial aid package right along with your acceptance letter and have a very good picture upfront of whether attendance at a school is a financial reality.
Finally, completing the FAFSA may not be enough. Many private schools and prestigious public institutions may also require the CSS Profile, but we'll save that topic for next week.