A Guide To The FAFSA

What is the FAFSA?

Standing for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the FAFSA is a form that students and prospective students can fill out in order to see if they qualify for financial aid from the government. Within the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid is the number one provider across the nation of student financial aid.

To apply for federal student aid, like federal grants, work-study, and loans, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.

In addition, many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid. Some private financial aid providers may also use your FAFSA information to determine whether you qualify for their aid.

 

 

Why Was it Created?

As College and University attendance grew, the need for financial aid became greater. In 1953, Harvard University created the first financial aid need analysis, and overtime, more financial aid programs were created.

In 1992, the FAFSA was created as a financial aid evaluation for all government assistance programs. By 1997, the FAFSA was available online to make its completion even easier for students across the globe.

 

 

Are you Eligible?

To be eligible to receive federal student aid, you must:

  • Be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the United States.
  • Have a valid Social Security Number. (Students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are exempt from this requirement.)
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or have completed homeschooling. If you don’t, you may still be eligible for federal student aid if you were enrolled in college or career school prior to July 1, 2012. Go to http://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/basic-criteria for additional information.
  • Be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan.
  • Register (or already be registered) with the Selective Service System, if you are a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. (Students from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau are exempt from registering; see www.sss.gov for more information.)
  • Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans). If you have such a conviction, you must complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if you are eligible for aid or partially eligible for aid.

Many types of federal student aid, such as the Federal Pell Grant, or subsidized loans, where the government pays the interest while you are in college, also require you to prove financial need. Additionally, once you have a bachelor’s degree or a first professional degree, you are generally not eligible for Pell or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).

 

 

Types of Financial Aid

The U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion every year to help millions of students pay for college. This federal student aid is awarded in the form of grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans.

 

Grants are typically awarded on the basis of need and generally do not have to be repaid. There are four types of federal student grants:

  • Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. (In some cases, students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs may receive Federal Pell Grants.) The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2016-2017 award year is $5,775; however, the actual award depends on the student’s financial need, the college’s cost of attendance, the student’s enrollment status, and the length of the academic year in which the student is enrolled. Students can receive the Federal Pell Grant for up to the equivalent of 12 semesters.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The amount of the award is determined by the college’s financial aid office, and depends on the student’s financial need, and the availability of funds at the college.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants are awarded to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families. If the service requirement is not fulfilled, it could turn into a loan.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students whose parents or guardians were members of the Armed Forces and died as a result of performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. To qualify, a student must have been under 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of the parent or guardian’s death.

 

The Federal Work-Study Program enables students to earn money during the school year while also gaining valuable work experience, typically in part-time, career-related jobs.

 

Loans consist of money that the student borrows to help pay for college, and must be repaid (plus interest). There are two federal student loan programs:

  • The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a campus-based program that provides low-interest loans to undergraduate and graduate students. The amount of the award depends on the student’s financial need, the amount of other aid the student receives, and the availability of funds at his/her college.
  • The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program enables students and parents to borrow money at low interest rates directly from the federal government. The Direct Loan Program includes Direct Stafford Loans, which are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and Direct PLUS Loans, which are available to parents of dependent students and to graduate and professional-degree students. A Direct Stafford Loan might be subsidized or unsubsidized. Direct PLUS Loans are always unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are based on financial need and are available only to undergraduate students. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans while the borrower is in college, and during deferment. Unsubsidized loans are based on the student’s education costs and other aid received. The borrower must pay all accrued interest on unsubsidized loans.

 

Other forms of financial aid that might be available to students include:

  • State government aid. For more information, contact the state’s higher education agency. You can find the state agency’s contact information here.
  • Aid from the college. Students should contact the financial aid offices at the colleges they are considering for more information.
  • Scholarships. Some states, local governments, colleges, community organizations, private employers, and other organizations award scholarships based on academic ability or other factors. For more information, visit StudentAid.gov.
  • Tax credits for education expenses. For more information about the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, visit their website.
  • Aid for the military. For more information see here.

 

 

 

When do you need to fill out a FAFSA application?

You should fill out a FAFSA for every year you plan to attend post-secondary school. The application should be filled out as soon as possible after January 1st of the year you plan to attend. If you attend school multiple years, consecutively or not, you must fill out an application for that year. If you are filing taxes, it is recommended to complete your FAFSA after you file your taxes.

 

 

 

How do you Start?

There are several ways to file:

  • Online at fafsa.gov is faster and easier than using a physical copy.
  • If you need a physical copy of your FAFSA, you can
  • Ask the financial aid office at your college or career school if you can file it there. Some schools will use special software to submit your FAFSA for you.               

 

 

 

What do you Need to Fill it Out?

To complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will need:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically.

 

 

 

Steps for completing your FAFSA.

Online

  1. Visit fafsa.gov and login.
  2. Choose which FAFSA you want to fill out.
  3. Enter your personal information.
  4. Enter your financial information.
  5. Choose up to 10 schools.
  6. Sign the document with your FAFSA ID.
    1. If you are a dependent, your parents will also need to sign.

Physical Copy

  1. Choose the needed form and obtain your physical copy.
  2. Enter your personal information.
  3. Enter your financial information.
  4. Choose up to 10 schools.
  5. Sign the document.
    1. If you are a dependent, your parents will also need to sign.
  6. File your form through your school or other resource.

 

 

 

What’s Next?

When applying online, you can check the status of your FAFSA immediately online, anytime after by simply logging in. Otherwise, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center for your forms current status.

Within 72 hours to 3 weeks, you will receive your SAR (student aid report). This will allow you to check that your information is correct. You will then receive an award letter from your school to let you know what type of aid you’re eligible for, and in what amount. Your school will then let you know how to accept and receive your financial aid.