One of the most intimidating aspect of the college process is figuring out how you are going to pay for college, but don’t let the “sticker price” of a university discourage you. There are MANY ways to make going to college affordable. One of the most impactful things you can do is file your FAFSA. If you don’t already know, FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Completing this FREE application is the only way a student can get money from the federal government to help pay for school. While the FAFSA has previously held a bad rep for being difficult, long, and pretty confusing, there are now new tools within the application to make it easier! Additionally, it is important to work with your College Adviser to help you through the process and make sure it is done correctly.
There are many important things you will need to know, about both yourself, your parents/legal guardian, and the documents that you will need on hand, in order to complete the FAFSA. Some of the information needed is:
- Social Security Number (if not US Citizen, don’t worry!)
- Alien Registration or Permanent Resident Card (if not a U.S. citizen)
- Driver’s License Number and State (if applicable)
- If you are married, divorced, separated, or widowed— what month and year?
- The Tax papers of two years prior to the academic year you are filing FAFSA for. Only applicable if you worked
- I.E.: FAFSA for the 2017-2018 academic year would require 2015 taxes
(Who is considered a parent on the FAFSA? https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/fafsa-parent.pdf):
- Mother’s Social Security Number (if not US Citizen, don’t worry– enter 000-00-0000)
- Mother’s Birth Date (mm/dd/yyyy)
- Father’s Social Security Number (if not US Citizen, don’t worry– enter 000-00-0000)
- Father’s Birth Date (mm/dd/yyyy)
- If parents are married, divorced, separated, or widowed—month and year.
- The Tax papers of two years prior to the academic year you are filing FAFSA for.
- I.E.: FAFSA for the 2017-2018 academic year would require 2015 taxes
- Net worth of parent’s investments, including real estate (not their home)
- Net worth of parent’s current business or farms (not if you live on it and operate it)
- As of today, parent’s current balance of cash, savings, and checking
- Welfare benefits, including TANF for you or parents (no food stamps or subsidized housing)
- Social Security benefits received but not taxed for you or parents
- Child support received or paid by you or parents
- Any other types of monthly income you or your parents receive
- Parent’s Alien Registration or Permanent Resident Card (if not a U.S. citizen)
Additionally, you will need to create an FSA ID for both yourself and one parent/guardian (if he/she is a US Citizen). The FSA ID is how you will electronically sign your FAFSA and you cannot complete the FAFSA until the FSA ID has been created. You can do this at fsaid.ed.gov. However, if your parent is NOT a US Citizen, you must put 000-00-0000 for the SSN and print a signature page after submitting the FAFSA. Do not let your parent’s documentation status sway you from completing the FAFSA.
The FAFSA opens on October 1st and the priority deadline to file FAFSA is March 1st; if you wait until after this deadline you risk not getting as much money possible for school. You can file the FAFSA at fafsa.ed.gov. If you have never filed before you will select “Start A New FAFSA” and you will be prompted to login with your newly created FSA ID and password.
Once you have filed your FAFSA, you need to be on the lookout for two important things
- A letter notifying you about FAFSA verification, or
- A financial aid award letter from institutions you have been accepted to.
Financial Aid Award Letter –
After an institution accepts you, you’ll receive a letter outlining how much the institution costs and what financial support you have received from the federal government, the state, and the institution. Once you receive letters from the institutions you are interested in, compare them! Not all financial aid award letters look the same, but they all contain the same general information:
- Grants: typically need-based aid that does NOT need to be paid back
- Scholarships: typically merit-based aid that does NOT need to be paid back
- Work-Study: a work program through the institution in which you earn money to pay for school
- Federal Student Loans → borrowed money that you must pay back, with interest
- Subsidized loans: The interest on the loan does not begin until 6 months after graduation
- Unsubsidized loans: You must pay back the loan plus interest beginning on when you take out the loan (during all semesters)
- Cost of Attendance (COA): An estimate on what you expected to pay to attend that institution (tuition/fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses)
- Expected Family Contribution (EFC): An index number that the institutions use to determine financial need
- How much more money do you need to fill the gap?
If you’re selected for verification, do not fret!
First, what is verification?
About 30% of all FAFSA filers are selected for verification, which requires schools to collect documentation to check the accuracy of the FAFSA information. If selected, the verification process must be completed before financial aid can be awarded.
If your FAFSA is selected for verification after you have been awarded, you have 45 days to complete verification. If the process is not complete within the 45 day window, your aid must be cancelled which may result in a balance owed to the university.
The Office of Student Financial Aid may be required to verify the following data elements on your FAFSA:
- Adjusted Gross Income (parent and student, if the student is dependent)
- Taxes Paid (parent and student, if the student is dependent)
- Income Earned from Work (for non-tax filers)
- Certain Untaxed Income Items (parent and student, if the student is dependent)
- Household Size
- Number in College (excluding parents for a dependent student)
- Receipt of Food Stamps/SNAP Benefit
- Child Support Paid
- Any other inconsistent or conflicting information
To verify these elements, we may ask for the following documents; however, this is not a complete list. Specific documents requested will be based on a family’s individual case.
- The prior year tax transcripts for both parent and student, if the student is dependent OR preferably, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool from your FAFSA. Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year the FAFSA and Verification process will be looking at tax information from two years prior (for example, the 2017-2018 aid year will be based on the 2015 tax year)
- A Verification Worksheet (downloadable from this web site)
- W-2s showing wages (parent and student if the student is dependent)
- Statement of child support paid
- Verification of Net Worth
- Documentation of Food Stamps/SNAP Benefit
Once verification begins, we may need to ask for additional documentation based on the tax transcript.
MOST IMPORTANT TAKEAWAYS:
- Complete the FAFSA and apply for aid if you haven’t already.
- Check your most recent award letter and your personalized web site to see whether there are additional steps you need to take to apply for aid.
- If you are considering an appeal, contact your financial aid office to ask how to appeal.
When in doubt, call the Financial Aid Office of the institution you are interested in attending to make sure they have received your FAFSA and/or you have questions about the process.
List of websites students can refer to: