Applying to college is stressful. You have mountains of essays to write, fears around acceptance, and the massive burden of figuring out how the heck you're going to pay for it all. Your first step in figuring out your financial aid is completing the FAFSA.
What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for "Free Application for Federal Student Aid," and it is a way for the government to see if you qualify for any financial aid. If you qualify, you could receive grants, scholarships, or other federal programs like work-study and federal loans.
Who is eligible for FAFSA?
If you're applying for college, you're likely eligible. Here is what you need:
Have a high school diploma or GED
Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree program
If you're a male, be registered for selective service
Have a valid social security number
Don't have negative prior history with federal loans (like, defaulted)
Sign a statement confirming you'll be using any aid for academic purposes (so no jetskis)
Maintain good grades
Foreign students are also eligible for FAFSA. There are some different requirements, the biggest of which is having a green card. FAFSA only looks at the student's residence status, meaning a student's parents' status is not considered.
When is the FAFSA due?
The federal deadline to submit your 2019-2020 FAFSA is June 30, 2020. States will also look at your submission to see if you qualify for any state-level assistance. State deadlines vary. For example, Louisiana has a FAFSA deadline of July 1, but Delaware has a FAFSA deadline of April 15. You can find your state's deadline here.
A common mistake people make is only checking the state deadline for where they live and not for where they are applying. If you apply to an out-of-state institution, then you're FAFSA needs to meet that state's deadline.
Juggling these deadlines can be tricky, especially if you are applying to multiple schools across multiple states. We recommend you research those dates ASAP, write them down in a sheet like this, and then put it someplace prominent (like, tape it to your mirror, or inside your locker). Missing a deadline could literally cost you thousands of dollars.
We've only listed five spaces because that's generally how many you should apply to. More than that and you should spend some time narrowing down your list. Plus, remember that every application comes with an application fee. Focus on the universities that you really want to attend and give them your best work.
Tips for filling out the FAFSA
You can access the FAFSA for the next academic year as early as October 1st. FAFSA has a first-come-first-serve approach. The earlier you apply, the better your odds for receiving financial aid.
Gather your required documents
Remember, faster is better. To apply, you will need:
Social Security Card
Prior year's W-2 forms
Prior year's Federal Income Tax Return
Prior year's untaxed income records
Current bank statements
If you are a dependent, you will need the above documents from your parents.
I want to be clear when we say prior year. Pretend you want to go to school starting in the fall of 2020. You should start filling out the FAFSA in 2019. You will need to provide financial documents from 2018.
Don't leave blank fields
Instead, enter a '0' or 'not applicable'. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
Take advantage of time savers
Besides using an FSA ID, another way to speed up the application process is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This handy-dandy tool automatically populate answers to some questions on the FAFSA with information from you or your parents’ federal income tax returns. Saves times and ensures accurate number? Yes, please!
Add all your schools
One of the biggest mistakes students make is not adding all their schools to the FAFSA form. Initially, you can only add 10, but after you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), you can send your FAFSA information to all the schools on your list. Even if you replace another school’s code with another one, it will never delete your financial information from that university's system.
A common mistake college students make is believing that the FAFSA is only for freshmen. It's not.
You should renew your FAFSA every year you are enrolled for several reasons.
If your parents' financial situation has changed, you might be eligible for additional aid.
Some opportunities and scholarships are only available to students that have completed at least one year of university.
If you applied late as an incoming freshman, you likely missed out on some aid. A common form of aid that runs out early is the Pell Grant. Learn from your mistake and make sure you apply as close to October 1st your sophomore year.
You might be eligible for a federal loan. Federal loans are preferable to other loans because they typically have the best interest rates.
Correcting your FAFSA
There are a few scenarios where you might want to correct your FAFSA. For example, you want to add a college, update contact information, or change some of your financials.
Luckily, it's really easy to do. Just log into your online FAFSA form and click "Make FAFSA Corrections." Changes will take effect in 3 to 5 days.
But remember, there's a deadline for everything (welcome to college). The 2019-2020 deadline for making changes to your FASFA application is Sept. 12, 2020.
If you need any additional help, you can always call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.