What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the form you complete to apply and determine your student's eligibility for state, federal and college-specific financial aid, such as grants, loans and work-study programs. Your student may pick up the FAFSA at his or her high school, college, or local college access program. You can also apply on-line at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov
What information is needed to complete
Completing the FAFSA is easier than you think - if you're prepared. In December of your student's senior year, request Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) for you and your student at http://www.pin.ed.gov The PIN acts as the electronic signature for the FAFSA for each of you. You'll receive your PIN 7 -10 days later. In January, start gathering the following items.
Complete the FAFSA and submit it to the Federal Processor by March 1 to get the best financial aid package.
What happens after we submit the FAFSA?
Expect the Student Aid Report (SAR) 3-6 weeks after submitting your FAFSA. This acknowledges that your form was processed, and can be used to make corrections to your FAFSA. Use your PIN to make on-line changes to your FAFSA, and as an electronic signature for future FAFSAs. Your student's college may request federal tax returns or other documents to verify your FAFSA information. Send the documents to the college financial aid office. The college will send your student a financial aid award letter detailing the assistance they're offering. Have your student sign and return the award letter to the college.
How will the
college determine how much financial aid my student will get?
All colleges use this formula to award financial aid:
Cost of Education - Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
The FAFSA will calculate your Expected Family Contribution, and the college will subtract this amount from the cost of attending their school (Cost of Education). This determines how much financial aid they can offer you. They will come as close as possible to meeting your Financial Need.
Federal Student Aid
If you have applied for financial aid and have been accepted to one or more colleges or universities of your choice, you will receive financial aid award letters which will show you how much and what types of financial aid each college is able to offer you. Some schools will have their award letters available online.
Read each award letter carefully to be sure you understand all terms and conditions so you can decide if you want to accept all, none, or a portion of the aid offered. Be sure to look for instructions for your next steps. You may need to complete additional paperwork such as loan applications. If grants or scholarships are available for more than one year, research the conditions that apply. Unless otherwise stated, the letter applies to the upcoming school year only and will list all sources of financial aid being offered by the college, based upon your FAFSA Student Aid Report, as well as other factors utilized by the colleges to determine your level of need-based and merit-based financial assistance.Your financial aid award letters will usually include the following information:
- Cost of Attendance (COA) - This is how much you will pay to attend college. It includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses.
- Gift Aid - This is “free money” that you do not have to pay back. It includes grants and scholarships from the college and/or outside sources. You will want to find out if they are available for all 4 years and get as much of this aid as you can!
- Work-Study - This is also money that you do not pay back. You earn it from employment through the Federal Work- Study Program and will receive it as you earn it over the course of the year from a job at the college.
- Federal Student Loans - Federal Student Loans are money that is borrowed and must be repaid. These loans, such as National Direct Loans or Stafford Loans, offer low interest rates and flexible repayment options.
Please keep in mind that your financial aid awards might not cover the full cost of attendance and you may need to find ways to cover the difference or "gap" between your COA and your financial aid.
The Fine Print
Read the award letter carefully to be sure you understand all terms and conditions so you can decide if you want to accept any, or all, of the aid offered. Be sure to look for instructions for your next steps. You may need to complete additional paperwork such as loan applications. If grants or scholarships are available for more than one year, research the conditions that apply. Unless otherwise stated, the letter applies to the upcoming school year only.
Changes since Filing the FASFA
If you or your student's situation has changed since you filed the FASFA, you must report any changes to the school. Additional outside scholarships, parental unemployment or illness, or a change in enrollment or family status could affect your award. Even name and address updates must be reported.
Once you've chosen your school, you may need to inform them in writing how much of the award you plan to accept. If you don't respond by the date indicated, your award could be in jeopardy.