FAFSA: What It Is and Why It’s Important
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a free application that you can file online or through the mail. FAFSA determines how much you can pay for college. It offsets the gap between how much it costs to attend college and how much you can pay by offering you grants, loans, and work study administered by the federal government, state, and college.
Categories within FAFSA
- Student Information
- Student’s Dependency Status
- Student’s Parent’s information
- Student’s finances
- Parent’s finances
- A list of the schools that should receive the results of the FAFSA
What you’ll need
- You and your parent’s social security numbers
- Your driver’s license
- W-2 Forms from the previous year (you and your parent’s)
- Your parent’s federal tax return from the previous year
- Current bank statements
- Current business and investment records
- Your alien registration card or permanent resident card (for non- U.S. citizens)
Completing the application online is the preferred method of filing. The online application guides you through each step and allows you to save your work in case you need to finish it later. You’ll also receive your results quickly; usually within three to five days, you will receive an email with your SAR (Student Aid Report) that contains your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). You also have the option of downloading and printing a PDF application and mailing the completed form. If you do not have Internet access, the FAFSA paper application is available at no cost from your guidance or financial aid office, local library, or the Federal Student Aid Information Center. After mailing your FAFSA, processing may take four to six weeks.
I have my EFC and SAR, now what?
The SAR summarizes your information from the FAFSA and is sent out to the schools you designated to receive information to determine if you qualify for financial aid. Your EFC is calculated based on your FAFSA information and is used to determine what your family can pay toward your tuition. The calculation for the EFC is based on income, assets, family expenses, and the number of students in college from your household.
The difference between the Cost of Attendance (your tuition, books, room and board) and the Expected Family Contribution equals your financial need.
Once you receive your SAR, check to make sure that it is accurate. If it isn’t, fix the mistakes and an accurate SAR will be sent to you. After they receive your SAR, your schools will send you a financial aid award letter. The letter will offer you a financial aid package based on your SAR and EFC; it will include offers for grants, loans and work study to cover the cost of your tuition. Compare schools and find out which one offers you more aid.
- The federal deadline for FAFSA is June 30th, but many schools have earlier deadlines and the sooner the you file your FAFSA the better chance you have of maximizing your amount of aid.
- The application opens on January 1st. Apply right on or after this date.
- If your parents haven’t filed their taxes in January, don’t worry, just put in their numbers from the year before. Once you get all the necessary forms and complete your tax return, you can file a FAFSA correction if needed.
- Many scholarships require that you demonstrate financial need. Based on your EFC, you can qualify for many private and college scholarships.
- Correct mistakes as soon as you can. This will ensure that your schools receive the most accurate FAFSA.
For more information, to apply, and to download all FAFSA forms necessary, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Don’t forget, the FAFSA needs to be filed every year! Once you file it for the very first time, renewing your FAFSA for the next year will be easier because much of the basic student and parent information has been saved.