The FAFSA’s Illusion and why should it be completed

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. We’ve mentioned it in previous posts but what really is it and why should we care about it?

This little form determines financial fate for many soon to be college students. Whether you are completing it yourself or with your family it’s important and essential to one’s college path.

What’s interesting about the FAFSA is that many students never fill out the form. The only thing that I can think of as to why that occurs is because students and parents may not exactly know all the details about the FAFSA. Well, that is what we are here to do!!! So let’s get right to it!

What is the FAFSA ?

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a form that’s completed by soon-to-be and current college students (both undergraduate and graduate).It’s the application that will need to be completed to determine if you are eligible to receive Pell Grants and Federal Student Loans.  

The history of the FAFSA can be traced back to as earlier as 1953. In that year the first financial aid need analysis formula was created. It wasn’t until 1992 where higher education amendments created the  Free Application for Federal Student Aid form and by 1997 the FAFSA on the web was rolled out to the masses.

Why is the FAFSA Important and what does it Determine?

The FAFSA is important for a variety of reasons. First of all it’s the only way to be eligible to receive federal financial aid. The FAFSA is also needed to see if a student qualifies for state and institutional aid (i.e. scholarships).

Here is the funding that the FAFSA will determine:

FAFSA Eligibility

Hopefully seeing what funding the FAFSA can make you eligible for, hopefully intrigues you a little more to more the form.

To do so, there is some eligibility criteria that you will need to meet.

  1. Be a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen
  2. Must have a valid Social Security Number
  3. Have a high school diploma or a GED
  4. Be enrolled or accepted as a student in a degree or certificate program that’s eligible

And remember this is what will be needed to meet in order receive federal aid:

  • FAFSA form must be completed
  • Male students must be registered with Selective Service
  • Comply and complete verification if selected
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Sign statement of educational purpose

FAFSA Application  

The FAFSA application is overwhelming.

Every year when the new FAFSA from would open up, I would see a panic in so many students because the completing of it can be daunting. There has been progress with trying to make the form easier.  

The web based application is available at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

You can also completed a paper/PDF application but doing it on the web is way more beneficial:

  • The FAFSA will be more accurate via the web application
  • You will get something back called a Student Aid Report (SAR Report) faster
  • And you can list up to ten colleges on the web form as opposed to the paper form which limits you to four

Nowadays the vast majority complete it online. I think the paper version really only exists in those rare situations where someone cannot complete it online. This application that doesn’t take long goes a long way. It’s important and essential. It’s free so remember you don’t have to accept the loans if it’s not in your financial plan.

Follow these Steps to Complete FAFSA

There are several steps needed to complete the FAFSA so please make sure you have the information with you when doing so.

The first thing you will need to do is set up your account.

You will need an FSA ID which is essentially you credentials to file the FAFSA. To electronically sign this form you need to obtain a FSA ID and you can do that by visiting https://fsaid.ed.gov.

The following is also the information you will need to complete the FAFSA

  • Social Security Number
  • Mailing Address
  • Driver’s License  Number
  • Your School’s Federal Code (you can find that here: Federal School Code Search)
  • Parental Information (Social Security, Date of Birth, E-mail address)
  • Household Size (you can find more information here: Household Size)
  • Previous Years Filed Taxes
  • IRS Data Retrieval Tool (this transfers tax income information to the FAFSA)
  • Complete and Sign the FAFSA

Correct year’s form

It’s really important to make sure that you are completing the correct year’s FAFSA form. From October 1st – June 30th of each year, the FAFSA site will display two versions of the FAFSA:

  • Upcoming academic year (July 1st of current year to June 30th of the next year)
  • Current academic year (July 1st of previous year to June 30th of current year)

I’m seen some student end up completing the form multiple times as they select the wrong year so again please be sure you are completed the correct one.

Once the FAFSA opens up in October, it’s important to complete it to be eligible for anything that’s first come first serve. Be sure to check with you school as they will have different deadline dates. The early completion of the FAFSA may benefit or hinder you for the following:

  • It allows you to be eligible for the grants that are on a first come basis
  • Not completing it may hold up your registration for that semester or term
  • Allow you to be proactive with your financial planning and prepare for any out of pocket expenses if any

After FAFSA Application is submitted

Congratulations your FAFSA was successfully submitted to Federal Student Aid.

That is the message that you will see once the application has been submitted. This is not your offer, you will get that separately from the school. The confirmation page displays some important and vital information. These figures are estimates with the assumption that what you put on the FAFSA is accurate.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and Verification

One of the pieces of data you will receive is the expected family contribution number (EFC).

This is important to understand what this is. It’s NOT the amount of money your family will have to pay. It’s an index number used to calculate financial aid.

The equation is simple as its Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need.

One out of three students will be selected for verification. This is where the student will be required to supply documentation such as income tax returns, W-2 statements, and 1099 forms. This will need to be verified in order to complete the FAFSA if selected.

In my professional experience, I’ve seen this hold up many students from receiving their federal funding. It doesn’t and shouldn’t take long to do so please make sure it’s done timely. Your school representatives should be able to help and assist you so please use their available expertise.

Student Aid Report (SAR)

After the FAFSA application, you will received your Student Aid Report (SAR). This will arrive by email or mail usually between three days and three weeks after the form has been submitted. This report provides basic information about your eligibility. It specifics your EFC including answers to the FAFSA.

Changes to FAFSA?

Can someone make changes to the FAFSA after it’s completed? The answer is yes. You can sign into the FAFSA to update your information. Sometimes you may find errors, or find that your family’s situation has altered. You can go to “Make FAFSA Corrections”, enter the FSA ID, make the changes, and then resubmit your application.

Changes can impact your aid as they may alter the numbers.

These changes can be made up until the communication FAFSA deadline.

Accept to Decline offer

College is chosen and you receive your offer. You will then need to indicate what aid you want to use for the upcoming school year. It’s usually accepted in this order:

  • Grants and Scholarships
  • Work-Study
  • Subsidized Federal Student Loans
  • Unsubsidized Federal Student Loans

FAFSA Facts

By now we hope you see that there are benefits to completing the FAFSA. Yes it’s confusing and yes it’s overwhelming but hopefully we have eased some of that tension. It’s important to take it step-by-step and make sure you the information you are putting on the form is accurate. Below is a quick recap of some of the information facts below.

Let’s do a review of those facts:

  • The FAFSA is something that need to be renewed every year.
  • Federal student aid has an award year that runs from July 1 to June 30. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) has a 21-month application cycle that begins on October 1, nine months before the start of the award year, and ends on June 30, the last day of the award year.
  • On average it takes about 24.13 minutes to complete the FAFSA
  • 99% of college students complete the FAFSA online
  • You can add up to 10 college at one time
  • 79% only list one college on the FAFSA
  • The FAFSA will determine your Expected Family Contribution number (EFC)
  • The EFC is not a number that a family will owe
  • You will need your FSA ID
  • You will need information from you and your parent to complete the application
  • Do not wait for college acceptance to complete the FAFSA the sooner the better
  • Your school will contact you to breakdown your awards
  • There are several deadlines (state, school, federal) to please make sure you are aware of these
  • You may be selected for verification
  • You can make corrections to an already completed FAFSA application

Tuition Drop Podcast

You can listen to the episode of the Tuition Drop Podcast on the FAFSA below!

Tuition Drop Podcast – What is the FAFSA?
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