Michael Szarek, is the Plan For College's first guest blogger. Michael is the Founder and Director of College Counseling for the Rest of Us, an independent counseling service based in New Jersey that helps families plan for college. You can connect with College Counseling for the Rest of Us on its website, or on Facebook.
FAFSA, the Free Application for the Federal Student Aid, is a form developed by the U.S. Department of Education that “ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded financial assistance for education beyond high school.” Regardless of your family's income, or where you’re thinking about going to college, filling out the FAFSA may enable you to qualify for:
- Gift money for college
- The best educational loan program available
- Work-study funding so you can get a job on-campus
(1) What if my parents make too much money? I’m telling you - fill out the FAFSA! The information provided from the FAFSA helps colleges expedite packaging non-need scholarships, as well as the institution’s own funding to supplement your own family’s contributions. And - starting this year - even if your parents are just applying for a PLUS loan, you are required to fill out a FAFSA.
As a former Director of Financial Aid, I can’t tell you how many families I’ve worked with that lost out on institutional grants and were delayed in receiving needed loan funding because they thought they “made too much money”.
Regardless of your economic status, regardless of the college you are attending or the state in which you live, the best financial aid advice you will ever get is to complete the FAFSA form.
(2) Well, where do I get the FAFSA? It’s available online, at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
(3) When do I fill this FAFSA out? It is available on January 1 each year for the following academic year. You should complete it as soon as possible to ensure that you meet college deadlines.
Once you have all of your family’s income and asset information for the prior calendar year, start filling out the FAFSA application. Although direct loans from the government to students will be there later in the process, grants (which don’t have to be paid back), are typically distributed closer to a first-come, first-serve basis.
(4) Will I need to fill it out again? You will complete it for every year you are expecting to be enrolled in college. This is an important piece to remember, because a good plan for college goes beyond senior year of high school.
(5) How hard is it to fill out? If you compile the proper paperwork beforehand, the form should take about 60 minutes to complete. Take your time, though, families make mistakes every year by rushing through the application for financial aid.
(6) What is the “proper paperwork”? You should have prior year tax returns, most recent bank statements, current investment records, records of any untaxed income, your driver’s license (if you have one), your social security number and (if you are not a U.S. citizen), your alien registration or permanent resident card.
(7) What if our financial situation has changed in the past year? Colleges can use what is known as “professional judgment” to adjust your financial aid, as appropriate. But do not send any such information to the FAFSA processor; this issue should be discussed with the colleges.
Well, those are the basics. But, whoever you may be, if you are going to college in September – the FAFSA is for YOU.
What are your thoughts on FAFSA? Comment below.