Have you been receiving emails about “filing the FAFSA” from colleges or your high school counseling office? Are you wondering what information you need in order to file a FAFSA?
What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form students and parents must complete and submit to the federal government to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid?
Who files the FAFSA?
Since this is a federal program, it is for US citizens or students with a legal status in the United States. International students are not eligible for federal student aid.
What kind of aid does the federal government offer?
There are three types of aid offered by the US government: 1) Grants , 2) Student Loans, 3) Workstudy .
Top Six Tips for getting ready to file the FAFSA
Create 2 separate FSA ID’s . Each student and parent need an ID to use to officially sign the FAFSA. Click here for directions to set up a FSA ID.
Gather financial records. Use the latest complete taxes you have. Gather end of the year bank records: savings, mortgages, stocks, bonds, other investments.
Gather personal records. Organize all parent and student social security, birth dates, and other personal information for easy access.
Use IRS Data Retrieval tool. Once you start your FAFSA, you will see a question in the FAFSA asking if you want to connect your tax return to your FAFSA. Say “YES”. This will streamline your process.
Prioritize your Colleges. You can only list 10 colleges at a time on the FAFSA. If you have more than 10, prioritize your list with private and in state schools in the top 10.
Plan to file early. The FAFSA application opened Oct. 1. It will be open until June or July. Many colleges and state programs have deadlines in February and March. Plan to file at least 20 days before the deadline.
Follow these tips and you will sail through completing the FAFSA!
Many states have connected their scholarship programs to the FAFSA. It makes it easy to apply for a state scholarship through the FAFSA, as long as you make the deadline. Check with your counselor to see what the deadlines are for your state or region. Finding the Due Dates
Some programs direct you to check with the state agency. Others have due dates after April. Check your state for deadlines and steps you need to take to be considered for any state scholarship
Graduation completed? Check!
Dorm room selected? Check!
ATM card for college! What? Get an ATM card?
Before you leave for college, you need to learn how to handle money. Here are 6 tips for you to consider as you prepare to go off to college in the fall.
Open a bank account NOW and get an ATM card (if you don’t already have one). Make it a joint account (you and a parent.) That way you can get money quickly if you need it when away from home (in college).
Learn how to check your bank balance from your phone . It is a good practice to check your bank balance before you get gas or stop by Starbucks, to be sure you have money in the bank for your purchase.
Learn how to deposit checks. New technology allows you to deposit checks right from your phone. Great for those graduation checks you will receive.
Create a budget . It is essential to have a spending plan. Know how much money you will have each month from your financial aid or from parents. With your parents, create a realistic monthly budget. Then, your biggest task will be to stick to your budget.
Learn how to schedule & pay bills from your account. You might have phone bills or other bills you are responsible for. Learn how to pay on time and keep within a budget.
Open a credit card account BEFORE leaving for college . Don’t be tempted by the credit card offers that you will see when you get there! Use this card as a “backup” only, and to help establish good credit.
Start developing good money management skills this summer, and you will have a great start to your freshman year in the fall.
You have offers of admissions from several universities. In addition to congratulating you on being admitted, the colleges will send you information about their offer of scholarships or other types of financial assistance available.
When receiving financial aid, often one financial aid offer looks better. But is it really? How do you know? Compare financial aid offers using the same criteria to determine which award is truly the best offer. Here are 6 questions to ask:
What is the Student Budget? The award should list expenses for: 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus). If the award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college. What is your Family Contribution? The amount your family is expected to pay for college is on the confirmation page you received when you filed the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid). This number should be listed on all your awards. If it’s not there, ask the college why. Is there a gap? Use the financial aid equation above to see if you are eligible for financial aid. Then check the college’s award letter. Is the college offering all the money you need? Or only a portion of it? How much is in grants and scholarships? How much of the award is money you do not have to pay back? Is the grant or scholarship renewable? What are the conditions for renewable? How much is in student and parent loans? How much of the award is parent loan? An offer of $20,000 parent loan alone is not a good offer. Is there a good mix? Look for a good mix. Are you being offered grants, scholarships, loans and work?
Your goal is to have good choices in your financial aid or merit awards.
Now is the time to look for scholarships. College scholarships come from three sources:
Colleges you applied to
Scholarships from your community
National or larger regional organizations
Increase your chances for scholarships by starting your scholarship search locally. Many local scholarships are looking for applicants! Check:
with the counseling office
school parent organization (PTA, Booster clubs, etc.)
with the local library
sign up for online bulletin with scholarships through your school
Use your residence as a means to get more money for college. Many states offer scholarships to top students. Check to see what is offered through your state . Check deadlines for any state scholarships you qualify for. Compete Nationally
There are dozens of national scholarship search engines available. Many are nothing more than a way to market credit cards or other products to you. Here are our recommended scholarship search sources.
Scholarship Match- Unigo
Add your college scholarship deadlines to your application plan.
You got into the three top schools on your list. Each has sent you a financial aid award. One offer looks better than the other two, but is it really? It’s important to compare financial aid offers. Here are 6 questions to ask: 1. What is the Student Budget? Does the college list all the costs for going to college: 1) Tuition & Fees; 2) Room & Board; 3) Books & Supplies; 4) Personal Expenses, 5) Transportation (getting to and from the campus). If the award does not include these items, search the website for the information or call the college. 2. What is your Family contribution on your Student Aid Report? The amount your family is expected to pay toward college is on the student aid report generated when you filed the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid). This number is needed for comparing financial aid awards. If your family contribution is close to or more than the student budget, then your awards from the college are going to be based on merit, and not on the financial need you have. 3. Is there a gap? You should know your family contribution from filing your FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid). To calculate how much financial aid you should be receiving, subtract the total student budget (all five items) from your family contribution. The total is your estimated financial need at the college. Is the college meeting your full need, or only a portion of it? 4. How much is in grants and scholarships? How much of the award is money you do not have to pay back? Is the grant or scholarship renewable? What are the conditions for renewable? 5. How much is in student and parent loans? How much of the award is parent loan? An offer of $20,000 that is all parent loan is not a good offer. The parent loans should be used to help pay for the family contribution. 6. Is there a good mix? Is there something missing? Are you being offered grants, scholarships, loans and work? Look for a good mix. If you are not offered “work study” ask about it. It is especially helpful for you to have a campus job to earn your personal expenses while in college.
Here are the top 5 myths about paying for college our counselors hear. Don’t fall victim to these myths!
1. My family makes too much money to qualify for financial aid.
This is one of the biggest myths out there. You may not qualify for aid at one school, and qualify for lots of money at another school (see blog How Do You Get Money for College ?)
2. It costs more to go out of state than to stay in state.
Not so. With increased tuition rates in many states, it is not always cheaper to stay in state. There are out of state tuition waivers available for many students. Also, colleges offer scholarships to students for athletes, scholars, certain majors, leadership, and other categories. Do not narrow your list of colleges to just instate schools.
3. It cost more to go to a private school than a public school. Not necessarily. Each family situation is unique. Depending on your situation, you could find it will cost less for your family if you attend a private school. See blog Can you Pay Less to Go To A More Expensive College? for Jack’s story of paying less at Dartmouth than CSU Los Angeles.
4. Outside Scholarships help reduce what you pay out of pocket for college.
Not true. Scholarship money does not reduce your family’s out of pocket expense unless you are paying all of the costs for the college. Scholarship money is used as a part of your financial aid. Colleges can use scholarships to reduce their own merit awards, or student loans/student work study. Ask colleges for their policies. This is why it is in your best interest to explore your choices for college. Find one that best meets your situation and needs.
5. Financial aid only helps with tuition.
Financial aid is money to use to pay for ALL college expenses: tuition, room and board, books, transportation and personal expenses. Colleges realize you need to buy toothpaste and have a pizza now and then. Financial aid covers all of these costs.
Did you know sometimes you can SAVE your family money when attending a Private college? How is that possible? See Jack’s story below.
Jack is a student living in Los Angeles. He has applied to several colleges, both in state and out of state. He has applied to CSU Los Angeles because it is close to home. His parents and friends all tell him it will cost him less to go to CSU Los Angeles than any other school. His heart is set on Dartmouth, which he knows is a very competitive college to get into. He has also visited Gettysburg and would like to go there as a student if Dartmouth does not accept him. Both of Jack’s parents work. They earn a good income, but not enough to pay for an expensive college. How can Jack afford to go to an expensive school like Dartmouth?
Estimating College Financial Aid
Jack needs to look at his estimated family contribution and the cost of each of the three colleges on his list.
resides in Southern CA
Cal State Univ.
Cost of College
$24,520 (in state)
What are the chances of the college giving me full financial need?
There is a difference between what your NEED is and how much money the colleges have to GIVE you. Some colleges have more money to give than others.
Jack Awesome, of Southern CA
Cal State Univ.
Average percent of need met
Financial Aid Award Estimate
Where would Jack spend less money:
It would cost Jack less money to go to Dartmouth than to stay home and go to CSU Los Angeles.
Jack Awesome, of Southern CA
Cal State Univ.
Financial Aid Award Estimate
Out of Pocket Cost
Moral of the story:
Don’t let the ticket price of a college scare you. Know how colleges will look at your family’s financial situation.
Paying for college is often compared to paying for airline tickets. No two people pay the same price. What will your costs be at college? How much you pay for college depends on so many factors. Knowing what those factors are, and how college will look at your family’s financial situation, will help you know what the price of your “college” ticket will be. Knowing how it will differ from one college to another will help you compare one college to another.
How do I know if I am eligible for financial aid?
What do colleges look at to determine how much you pay for college? The FAFSA or Profile forms are used to determine how much your family can contribute to your college education. The forms include questions to find out:
· How much income your parents make
· How much income you make (if any)- even babysitting counts
· How much savings or investments your parents have
· How much savings you have in your name
What is an “Expected Family Contribution”?
The answers from the FAFSA are plugged into a formula. Out comes an “Expected Family Contribution”. This is the number used to determine how much financial assistance (if any) your family is eligible for.
What else is considered?
Besides income and assets, these factors are also considered:
· Age of your parents. The older they are, the more savings they need set aside to retire.
· Size of your family. Large families need more money to live on than small families.
· The number of children in college at one time. It can save you money to have more than one child in college at one time. Unfortunately, parents don’t count in the mix anymore.
When do I file my financial aid forms?
Timing is everything when it comes to financial aid. Watch for details about when colleges require the FAFSA or the Profile form to be filed. Plan to file the FAFSA as early as possible (Oct 1 the FAFSA opens). This is the form needed to qualify for financial grants, work-study or student loans from the federal government. The College Board Profile may also be required by the college (or a scholarship program). This is the form colleges use to help know who needs money from the college itself. It is their way of distributing their own funds to the students with the most need. Deadlines for the Profile vary college by college.