FAFSA: A How-to On Applying for Financial Aid

Ah, FAFSA. The original love of my life. What would I have done without you?

Actually, I know the answer to that question, I would’ve had a larger amount of student debt without you!

When I was in high school, I had no idea what FAFSA was (even though I had two older sisters who were in college at the time). Then came my senior year of high school. I started applying to colleges and having to speak with my school’s guidance counselor more and more often, she explained to me that I qualified for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Having the government pay for my tuition? Sign me up, ASAP.

Since my parents are Middle Eastern and have not heard about FAFSA before or how it works, they weren’t able to tell their children about it. My parents had to pay for both of my sister’s tuitions, when in reality, FAFSA would have covered almost the entire cost*!

Below, I’ll be talking about the basics of who can apply for FAFSA and how to easily apply to receive as much federal aid as possible.

Who Can Apply

In order to apply for financial aid, you must meet certain requirements, which include:

  • Having a financial need – depending on your family’s level of income, this will determine whether or not you will be able to receive aid and how much aid you can receive. The specific algorithm for this is unknown.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or “eligible non-citizen”
  • Be enrolled or enrolling in a qualifying degree or certificate program.

What You’ll Need to Apply

Before applying, it’s always easiest to get all of your documentation in order before opening the application. This is best since the earliest you submit a complete document, the more aid you can receive since it would not already be distributed to other students.

  • Personal Identification Data: social security number, driver’s license, etc. for your parent or parents and yourself (the dependent). If you are independent, no parental information is needed.
  • Your Prior Year Tax Return & W-2 Form: For those filing for the 2019-2020 school year, you will use your 2017 tax return form. A lot of this information will be automatically entered for you while using FAFSA’s online tool called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) for those that are eligible (if your accountant files online). Having your paper return in hand will still make your life easier if DRT does not fill everything in for you.
  • Account Statements for All Investment Assets and Bank Statements: Such as stocks, bonds, business assets, etc.
  • Records of Untaxed Income: such as child support and interest income (if you are a contractor with a business)
  • Colleges You will be Attending or Applying to: Even if you’re not sure where you are going to apply, the FAFSA must have at least one college listed to be processed. There is no obligation to apply or attend that school once you submit, but if you are considering a few different colleges, it’s best to add all schools to your FAFSA.

How to Apply

The application requires a lot of information, but the process is pretty straightforward.

  • Apply for a FSA ID if you don’t have one. Both the parent and student should have separate FSA IDs.
  • Begin the application process at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Click “Start Here” and follow the instructions.

And voila! You are now on your way to saving on your college tuition!

Something to note: The process can sometimes be frustrating if you’re not sure what to put and cannot find the right answer for your questions. Make sure to ask your guidance counselor, reach out to FAFSA’s help desk, or shoot me an email (I’d be happy to help)! My sister attempted to fill out a FAFSA when she started college, but wasn’t sure entirely how to complete it and didn’t reach out for help from her guidance couselor, which meant she paid out-of-pocket what her scholarship didn’t cover. Don’t let this happen to you! Take the assistance if you’re eligible for it!

*Depending on your family’s overall income, you may or may not receive a full Federal Aid Package. Some students receive more in Federal Aid then others.

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