For many families, the FAFSA can feel intimidating. Your coaches don’t want you to be scared of the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. When you break down what that name means, you’ll discover it’s not so frightening.
The first thing to know about the FAFSA is that it is absolutely free to file. You do not need anyone to file it for you. Use the .gov website to file it on your own. The online version of the FAFSA contains help and hints that tell you the exact line to check on your tax documents for each question. Don’t go to a .com site to file your FAFSA or you may be asked to pay a fee at the end. Money you don’t want to pay is one scary surprise you can easily avoid when filing the FAFSA.
It’s also important to know that the FAFSA is your main application for financial aid. You aren’t automatically considered for aid just because you are in college. Like most applications, the FAFSA opens on a certain date. Each year on October 1, the FAFSA becomes available to fill out for the next school year. Also, remember that you should apply through the FAFSA each year you’re in college to be considered for financial aid from the federal government, your state, and your school.
Speaking of aid sources, it’s important to know that the FAFSA is an application from the federal government. While states and colleges use the results of the FAFSA to assess a student’s financial need, it all begins with the federal government. This means that it is the U.S. legislature and Department of Education that set any changes to the FAFSA. The federal deadlines to qualify for aid are usually much later than state deadlines, so keep that in mind as you file.
This may seem obvious, but the FAFSA is a student form. As a coach, I have seen parents fill out the FAFSA for their student, but with their own information. When the FAFSA asks for “your” information, it means the student’s Social Security number, email address, earnings, etc. In most cases, the parent’s information is needed for undergrads, but that information goes in its own section of the FAFSA that will be clearly marked as “parent.” Filing the application is ultimately the student’s responsibility.
Lastly, it’s important to know that the FAFSA leads to different types of financial aid. Aid can come in the form of grants, loans, and work study. Yes, loans are considered financial aid since it is money that you would not otherwise have. Also, work study options can help a student fund their college education even though they must work to receive it. While your Student Aid Report (SAR) will detail some of this information, the full award detail will be listed by your college on their financial aid award letter.
Coaches don’t fill out the FAFSA for you, but we are here each step of the way to help with questions. We are also here to review your Student Aid Report for accuracy. We want you to feel prepared, be empowered, and get all the financial aid you can. The FAFSA is an important step in achieving that, but not one to fear!