The FAFSA and applying for Financial Aid
Each year, the federal government requires those who seek financial assistance to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA. The purpose of the FAFSA is to collect information on a family’s annual income and assets. It’s important to note that the figures contained in the application are used not only to determine federal assistance but state and institutional aid as well.
How is Financial Need Determined?
Using a standard formula developed by Congress, the government establishes need and eligibility for grants. Additionally, it calculates yourexpected family contribution, which is the amount of money (after aid) your family will need to cover the cost of your education.
The government assessment, referred to as a Student Aid Report, is then forwarded to the colleges and universities that you have designated to receive the form. Upon receipt of your FAFSA analysis, schools will make you a financial aid offer. Assuming you qualify, your package can include any combination of grants, loans and/or work-study programs. Of course, a student must first be admitted before a college or university will award financial aid. Since funds are distributed annually, you will need to complete a FAFSA for every year in which you are enrolled in college.
When Should I Complete the FAFSA?
The FAFSA can be completed anytime after January 1st of your senior year. Deadlines will vary for each college or state agency. They’ll also depend upon whether you submit online or via hard copy. (Families are strongly encouraged to submit the form online, though paper copies may be ordered through your high school.) Therefore, you must pay close attention to dates! It’s recommended that you send in the form no later than March 15th. And, you should be aware that need-based financial aid is distributed on a first come, first served basis. Therefore, the earlier you apply, the more funds available.
It’s also important to recognize that Federal Student Aid considers the receipt date/time to be when the original forms and/or corrections were successfully submitted. Transactions must be completed and accepted by midnight to meet the established deadline. If you wait too long and your initial application is rejected, you may miss your school’s deadline. Remember to print out your confirmation page following your submission. It will contain a confirmation number with the exact date and time (Central Standard Time) the form was received.
Though most schools rely solely on the FAFSA to determine a financial aid package, some colleges may request additional information. Indeed, a number of highly selective institutions also require the CSS Profile to be filled out. There is a cost for processing this form so only complete it if it’s explicitly required by a school to which you have applied. Check with your guidance counselor or a financial aid administrator at the schools to which you applied if you’re unsure. And remember – state forms do not replace filling out the FAFSA application. You must fill out the FAFSA to receive federal student aid.
Finally, even if you don’t think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, we strongly encourage you to explore all your college-funding options. For more information on the FAFSA (including deadlines), visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ and for more information on state financial assistance please visit http://www.finaid.org/otheraid/state.phtml
TO APPLY FOR THE FAFSA: Start a new FAFSA
UNDERSTANDING YOUR OPTIONS: FAFSA4caster