FAFSA: Get the facts that get you money.
- The U.S. government expects students to contribute to their college expenses. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA is the form the government uses to determine how much you and your family can contribute to your college costs. Your completed FAFSA application is also used by colleges to assess financial needs. Many students sometimes fail to fill out this form thinking that they may not be eligible for financial aid. However, it's important for all students to fill out the FAFSA as it is used in determining federal student grants, scholarships, awards, work-study and loans. You can be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant which does not have to be paid back, a Federal Perkins loan which has a low interest rate, among many others. Also many schools and states use this form to establish financial need for college.
You can find the FAFSA application on the official FAFSA website, www.fafsa.ed.gov. It can also be found in your guidance counselor's office, the library or at the financial aid office of any college. You can submit the form via the website, which is the preferred method of submission as electronic filing may be 14 days faster than sending through the mail. If you decide to mail your form, make sure to photocopy everything you are sending.
The FAFSA application is for U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens. Males 18 and over must be registered with Selective Service before filling out the FAFSA. The colleges of your choice must be participating schools, and you must be making satisfactory academic progress. Also, in order to be eligible for federal aid you must not have any drug convictions.
You should fill out the FAFSA form as soon as possible after January 1. (You can not submit it before this date.) The earlier you submit it the better your chances of getting aid if eligible. Check the FAFSA website or with your guidance counselor to find out the deadline in your state. Remember some grants are limited and can only be given to a certain number of students.
Finishing your income tax return before filling out the FAFSA will make completing the application easier. If you can not fill out your tax return before filling out this application, go ahead and fill out the financial aid form anyway. If you do not have a tax form, you will need records of income earned the year prior to when you started school. When you do fill out your tax return, make sure to notify FAFSA if there are any differences from the income reported on your tax return and the income reported on your application.
If your family's economic circumstances have changed recently (loss of employment or benefits, divorce), notify your financial aid administrator. Based on this notification, data on the FAFSA may be adjusted which may mean an increase in aid for you.
When you are reporting parents' income on the form, if your parents are divorced or separated, report the income of the parent that you have lived with the most in the last 12 months. If the parent you live with is remarried, you must also report your stepparent's income. If you do not live with your parents but other relatives, you do not report your relatives' income unless you are legally adopted by them.
If you are going to fill out the FAFSA electronically, you will need to get a PIN (Personal Identification Number) from their website. The PIN serves as an electronic signature and can be used each year to electronically apply for federal student aid and to access your records online. If you use the form on the FAFSA site without a PIN, you will simply print out the form and send it via mail.
Also make sure you have your social security and driver's license numbers handy; you're going to need them when filling out this application. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need your alien registration or permanent resident card at hand.
If you filed electronically, about a week later you will receive an e-mail with a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR) and will be able to make corrections on the web. If you filed by mail, a few weeks after you submit the FAFSA you will receive in the mail the SAR. Make sure to look over all information on this report. If there are any errors, correct as soon as possible.
The amount you will see at the upper right hand corner of the SAR is the EFC (Expected Family Contribution). This is the estimated amount of what your family is expected to contribute to college costs. Sometimes you will find an asterisk next to your EFC figure. This means that your application has been randomly selected for their verification process. Information on your FAFSA will be checked against signed tax forms. When you receive the SAR, if you feel you can not contribute the expected amount, begin to look into loans for parents. Student Loans will be listed as part of the financial package. Instructions regarding the loan process will come from the college, and students will need to sign the Master Promissory Note. This would enable the student to receive both Stafford and direct loan funds.
You will also find a Data Release Number (DRN) close to the upper right hand corner of the first page of the SAR. You will need the DRN if you contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center to make corrections to your mailing address or the schools you listed on your FAFSA. The DRN also allows you to release your FAFSA data to schools you did not list on your original FAFSA.
If part of your student aid package includes a work-study position, you will be placed in a job on campus. If you checked "yes" on the form, and then change your mind, you will not be obligated to take the job.
For help with the FAFSA, call their number at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3943) or check out their FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on the official website.
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