Upasana Gupta - November 21, 2013
5 Do's for Filing the FAFSA Application
Get Specific Advice on: Family Size, Assets, FAFSA ResourcesFree Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an online federal application which determines a student's eligibility for state and federal aid toward college funds. Filling out the FAFSA is pretty much a starting step in the financial aid process.
"The FAFSA is central to federal and state aid program and many private colleges rely on it exclusively for their funds. So it is a crucial piece of the financial aid process," says Robert Weinerman, senior director of college finance at College Coach, a provider of college consulting services.
First-time families often get intimidated by the depth of financial and other information required in the FAFSA form. But here are five tips and advice offered by financial aid officers to help ease the process for first-time students' and parents.
(Suggested Read: Financial Aid: 5 Common Myths; FAFSA FAQ; Financial Aid Roadmap;)
1. Do fill-out and submit the FAFSA form. While FAFSA is predominantly an application for need based aid, but everyone irrespective of their financial status should apply and submit the FAFSA. Reason being: students' who submit the FAFSA get certified by the Department of Education as US Citizens or Permanent Residents and may get qualified for other federal funding. Also, take the case of a private educational institution, which offers merit scholarship based on a student's academic qualities, but the scholarship is only available to US Citizens or Permanent Residents. In such cases, "if a student is eligible for merit scholarship, but did not file the FAFSA, the college may not be able to conclude the student's US Citizenship or Permanent Residency and pass the student for merit scholarship," Weinerman adds.
Further, students should remember that Stafford and other federal loans is available only through the FAFSA application.
2. Do read the questions the FAFSA is asking and enter the right information. Students should be extra careful in entering their name, SSN and their date of birth while filling out the FAFSA because these are information that need to match up with what the financial aid office has on file. Also, the government calculates federal aid eligibility for students' based on a forumlae, which takes into consideration the family size and income. So grant money is dependent on the information students' enter on their FAFSA application.
Beth-Anne Egan, associate director of financial aid at Asnuntuck Community College finds that often first-time students' fill- out the family size information incorrectly. "They often think it's just me and forget to include parents and other family members that their parents support financially."
Confusion with family size also often arises for students' whose parents are not married to each other. In such cases, students' need to look into the household they live in and choose the parent they live most with. The second adult that usually goes in the application is either the step-parent married to that parent or if there is a second parent in the household who is not married to the first parent,.. that parent. "This can get very confusing for kids," Weinerman says. "I have a dad over here, but you are telling me that my mom and step-dad have to apply because I live in that house, but my step-dad does not want to fill-in any information on the form."
Students' should reach out to their financial aid officers and seek their parents help in such cases to ensure they are filling the right information.
According to Weinerman, another area which gets baffling is when students are asked to disclose their family assets on the application. He often finds that a lot of first-time families are not sure what assets to report and what to value?
"The first thing I tell people is that they are supposed to put a value on their assets that exists on the day they file the form," Weinerman says. "So the best strategy is to get their end-of-the-month statements from the month before they file the form and have it available before they fill-out the form."
Although almost all information which a student misenters can be corrected by their financial aid office. But students' should still be careful while reading and addressing each question on their FAFSA form to avoid unnecessary edits, confusion and time lag.
3. Do meet the FAFSA submission deadline. "Most important thing for first-time families to remember is that it's better to meet a deadline with estimated information, than it is to submit a perfectly accurate application late," Weinerman says.
People can definitely estimate their prior year's tax information before they fill out their tax returns. The FAFSA form is flexible and allow families to estimate and fix those estimates with precise information later.
For instance, high school seniors on the FAFSA will be asked: what is your 2013 adjusted gross income? They obviously won't know their 2013's gross income until they complete their 2013's tax return. But students may need to file their FAFSA before they get their tax return done. So they are allowed to estimate their 2013's adjusted gross income on the FAFSA and later fix it with precise numbers.
"Many community colleges don't have hard deadlines- we process financial aid through out the year," Egan says. "But four year schools have strict deadlines, which students' have to adhere to, otherwise they will forgo aid for that year."
4. Do file the FAFSA for free. Students' should never pay for filing the FAFSA because it is a free application not requiring any payment.
5. Do remember that there is a lot of help available to assist with the FAFSA. For parents who have never filed the FAFSA before, there is a national program called College Goal Sunday, which helps any family with assistance in filling out the FAFSA. In Connecticut, Egan actively participates in this program on the last Sunday in January. She helps students from high schools, community colleges and four-year schools complete their FAFSA form. "All states offer this, but students need to check with their state about registering for help," Egan says.
Students' should also vist:http://studentaid.ed.gov- a site with very trustworthy and valuable information on financial aid.
"Understand that the process has a reputation of being tougher than it is. Most people who file their application for the first time are so scared about how hard it is that they psyche themselves out, but the reality is that it's actually doable and there is a lot of help available for people to do it," Weinerman says.
(Visit our Financial Aid section for more information.)