Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA

CollegeCollege tuition rates are high to begin with and they only continue to rise even more. According to USAToday, in the past year tuition and fees at public colleges rose at an average of 8.3 percent, bringing the average cost of tuition to $8,244. This doesn’t even compare to how much it costs to go to private universities where the average is $27,293, according to the College Board. So with these astronomical prices how are students or their parents supposed to pay the bill?

One valuable tool that many people don’t take full advantage of is the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid which is offered by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s exactly what it sounds like: an application that students and their parents can fill out each year to receive federal aid, such as grants, loans and work-study programs to help pay for school.

So the first question you’re all asking is how does it work? The U.S. Department of Education begins accepting applications starting January 1 of each year and continues accepting them until June 30 of the next year. However, each state and college has their own deadline which you’ll want to check out. You can see your specific deadline here. Something to consider when you are filing your FAFSA is that the aid is given out on a first come, first serve basis so the earlier that you can send in your application, the better your chances are for receiving more aid.

There are several ways to file the FAFSA. You can complete it online, fill out a printed PDF copy, or request a paper copy by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. The online application is recommended, because you can fill it out and send it right away. Like a paper copy, you can save it and come back to it if you need to. If you’d rather have a hard-copy, you can print out a PDF or get a copy sent to you, but you’ll have to take into account the time it will take for FSA to send it via mail, and the time it will take you to send it back.

When filing your FAFSA, you will need yours and your parents’ financial information for 2011 for the 2012-2013 school year. You’ll need to prepare some documents in order to fill it out, including income tax returns, your current bank statements, and your IDs (like your driver’s license or social security card). You can see the complete list of documents here. Once you have all these you can start applying for your financial aid. The application will ask you various questions about how much you and your parents make, your family’s assets, and household information in order to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that you or your parents are expected to pay for your tuition.

Once you have submitted your FAFSA you will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR) in 3-5 days which summarizes all your information and will contain your EFC. Once you get this, check that it’s accurate and then you’ll be all set to receive your financial aid.

So what should you take away from this? Here’s what you need to know.

  1. You can access the FAFSA at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/.
  2. Complete your FAFSA as early as possible
  3. Make sure you have all of your financial documents ready to go when you’re applying.
  4. Once you get your SAR make sure everything is correct otherwise you may not receive the right financial aid.
  5. The FAFSA will also be used by your college to determine if you are eligible for private aid from the college so check if you need to do anything extra with your financial aid office.
  6. Good luck and hopefully this can help you make paying for college a little easier!

Sources:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2011-10-25/public-college-costs-increase/50919598/1

http://www.naicu.edu/news_room/private-college-tuition-increases-46-percent-for-2011-12-institutional-student-aid-up-7-percent

http://federalstudentaid.ed.gov/about/index.html

http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/

Photo: http://www.401Kcalculator.org