October is here; school is well underway; and, for parents with high school seniors, it’s time to start planning for college! October 1st marks the beginning of FAFSA® season. Not familiar with the term “FAFSA®?” That’s okay! Today, you will learn the basics of what you need to know.
What is the FAFSA®?
FAFSA® stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form, created by the office of Federal Student Aid—a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to determine which forms of federal student aid are available to students currently enrolled or preparing to enroll in higher education programs. By completing the FAFSA®, you will learn whether or not you qualify for 3 things:
A grant is a form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid. They are usually based on need and are primarily provided by the federal government, state governments, colleges, or non-profit organizations.
Federal Work-Study programs provide students with part-time jobs while they are enrolled in school. These jobs may be on or off-campus and they allow students to earn money to help pay for their education.
These loans are administered by the federal government and allow eligible students and parents to borrow money to assist with educational expenses. There are various types of loans available, but there are two types that are most common—Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
Direct Subsidized Loans
Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergraduate students and are based upon financial need. While in school, the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on the loan. Once the student graduates, he or she assumes responsibility for the loans.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students and are not based on financial need. Unlike the Direct Subsidized Loans, the student is responsible for interest at all times, though they are not required to make a payment while enrolled.
When should I complete the FAFSA®?
Now! It’s important to get a jump on the application process and complete it as soon as possible. Why?
First, the form can be somewhat challenging if it’s your first time completing it. There are various pieces of information that are needed such as tax returns, banking and investment statements, and more. Completing the form can be done in one sitting, but it often takes multiple days to get everything sorted and verified before submitting.
Many colleges have a set amount of funds that are set aside each year for student aid. These funds are often awarded on a first come, first served basis. So, if you submit your FAFSA® early, your chances of being awarded student aid are likely to go up. In addition, many states have their own financial aid programs. These programs, similar to college programs, often have a limited amount of funding available that is awarded until funds are depleted.
Finally, it may take several weeks for your form to be processed and for you to receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of your FAFSA®. Colleges also receive this form and use it to determine your eligibility for aid. In some cases, you may receive a notice with your SAR that you have been selected for verification. This means that the office of Federal Student Aid or your college is requesting additional information to verify the information on your FAFSA® is correct. Going through this step could add another few weeks to the process and delay the award notification from the college.
Why should I complete the FAFSA®?
Simply put… college is expensive. Completing the FAFSA® gives you the best opportunity to maximize your student aid. With so many colleges and state programs basing their scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid on the information they receive from the FAFSA®, not completing it could severely limit your funds received.
Hint: Even though you may think your financial situation is “too good” for you to qualify for student aid, don’t be fooled. “In fact, most people are eligible for federal student aid” (Studentaid.ed.gov/sa/).
Another reason to complete the FAFSA®, especially early on, is that it then allows you to focus on everything else that needs to be done before the start of the school year. You’ll have more time to:
- Submit college applications
- Apply for scholarships
- Research degree plans and coursework
- Create a budget to determine how much aid you actually need
Finally, it will make it much easier to compare colleges and determine the one that’s the best fit for you. You will know how much it costs to attend each school, how much free aid you have been offered, what scholarships you qualify for, and whether or not there is a shortfall in funding. Knowing these things will allow you to make an informed decision that you feel confident in.
Now is the time to complete the FAFSA® form. If you know which colleges you are interested in attending, reach out to their financial aid administrator to find out when their deadlines are. If one is sooner than the others, use that as your target date for completion. Don’t wait until the federal deadline and potentially miss out on free money! To get started, head on over to the Federal Student Aid office website and check out their guidelines for filling out the FAFSA®.
If you are still in the college planning stage or you are in your first FAFSA® season and need some help mapping out the costs of college and how to pay for it, please schedule a free introductory call with one of our financial planners. We’d love to help you understand your options!