Student FAFSA Application

What you need to know and do to get financial aid

Filling out the student FAFSA application for financial aid?
Having put 4 kids through college, I have been filling out these form for over 10 years. Some years I was completing 3 at once. So we here to share the basics on this most important application process. The most important piece of advice I can give you right upfront: You Must Fill Out the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid and you should do it as early as possible.  Remember as they say, the early bird gets the worm and in this case, the early filers get the money!

FAFSA.. It is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid. It is not a scholarship, loan or grant application. It is a process which calculates your financial need. You don’t do the math. The information you enter about your income, earnings, assets and expenses are run through a FAFSA formula that assigns your EFC. EFC stands for expected family contribution: it is the dollar amount that, according to the government, you and your family can afford to contribute towards the costs of your college education for the upcoming year. EVERY STUDENT WHO WANTS FINANCIAL AID OF ANY KIND MUST COMPLETE A FAFSA EVERY YEAR.

How does FAFSA work? Your FAFSA EFC is sent to each college financial aid office that you list on your application. The financial aid officer looks at your FAFSA EFC to see what you can afford and compares that with the expected COST of attending their university. The difference between those two numbers is your NEED. The school then puts together your financial aid package through a combination of loans, grants, work study and scholarships. Their goal is to try and meet as much of your need as possible through your financial aid awards. Concurrent with completing your student FAFSA application, also search out scholarships Remember scholarships are the gold standard as they DO NOT have to be paid back. They are free monies!

How do you complete a student FAFSA application? The best way to fill out the FAFSA is online. Go to Make sure you go directly to this government site. If you search FAFSA, there are many sites out there that will charge you to complete the FAFSA. FAFSA, like its name says, is FREE. So unless you have your own accountant complete it, you should investigate carefully before paying anyone else to complete and submit this form. The instructions on the site are very good and most people can complete the form on their own. Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, announced last year that they have made changes on the FAFSA application to make it easier for students and their parents to file this form. Most students, who are listed as dependents on their parents tax return, have their parents complete their FAFSA . If you are independent, then you will complete it yourself. Make sure before you start that at least one parent and the student apply for a Dept. of Education PIN. There is a prompt under Step 1 on the FAFSA home page that will tell you how to do it. The PIN will allow you to save and edit your FAFSA application. Once received, keep the PIN in a secure, accessible place as you will need it every year. 

What information do you need to fill out your student FAFSA application? Gather Social security numbers, drivers license numbers and information on your assets, such as bank accounts, savings accounts, money market funds and stocks. You will need copies of your tax returns from this year if you have already filed. If you haven’t filed yet, look at last year’s return and estimate for this year. You will need to go back into your online FAFSA form and edit it once you have actually filed your return. Finally, make sure you have a list of the schools you want to receive your FAFSA information. You will be able to get the needed Federal Title IV school codes right online when you are asked for them.
Who gets the results of my FAFSA? The schools you listed on the application. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t gotten in yet. You should also keep a copy of your own finalized FAFSA. You may need to provide it if you are applying for outside scholarships.

When should you file your student FAFSA application? As soon as you can in January. The earlier the better. You do not have to wait until your tax returns are filed. Due to last minute tax change legislation, taxpayers who itemize will not be able to file until mid-to-late February. So don't wait, get your FAFSA on file using estimated information and you go back in with your PIN and update once the tax returns are actually filed. You want to be first in line once aid awarding begins! And as an FYI.. You DO NOT send a copy of your tax return to the Dept of Education. They will contact you if they need it. By getting your information in early to the Financial Aid departments, they will have it on file and be able to work on your financial aid package faster. Wait until late spring and you will be nibbling on the leftovers of the grant, loan, scholarship and aid monies that the school has available for the next academic year.

See more articles like the student FAFSA application in our Celebrate College section....lots more good tips from parents of 4 college students who have learned alot about the process during their own experiences.  Here is an especially good post with Important Advice for college parents!

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