What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and is a form that prospective and current college students in the U.S. can complete to see what financial aid they qualify for to help pay for the cost of college.
The financial aid offered can be in the form of favorable loans, grants, or scholarships from the US Government, the State, or the University and varies depending on the student’s financial needs.
Why should I do it?
Almost all students qualify for at least some sort of financial aid via completion of the FAFSA. Many people don’t realize that many university-specific grants/financial aid is apportioned only to those who submit a FAFSA, i.e. you run the risk of possibly foregoing totally free money by not doing the FAFSA.
Isn’t it really hard to do?
Some people say the FAFSA is too hard, but it really is not. You can complete it for free online at fafsa.gov OR you can have somebody help you complete it over the phone with services such as FAFSA.com. The latter has some packages ranging from $79 to $99 to help and can get it done over the phone in about 30-60 minutes.
Is it true that if parents make a lot of money then you can’t get financial aid?
Some people say the FAFSA is a waste of time because their parents make too much money, but again that is not the case. While it is true that a student might not be offered much or anything …..
- Even wealthy people are typically offered at least favorable government loans. Take a subsidized federal stafford loan (0% interest while student in school) and invest it at a higher than 0% interest rate to make a spread.
- Many people don’t realize that universities have their own institutional grants/scholarships they only award to those who complete the FAFSA. These can change from year to year.
There is a 100% chance of not getting any free money by not doing the FAFSA, but at least a better chance than 0% of getting some free money by doing the FAFSA.
When should I do it?
Now! ASAP! Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible because financial aid packages are awarded on a first-come first-served basis.
This first date to turn in your FAFSA for the upcoming Fall school year is January 1st and the deadline is commonly around June 30th (this can fluctuate slightly from year-to-year). Thus, submit the application January 1st so you’re first in line for awards!
What happens after I fill out the FAFSA?
After completing the free application, then you receive an award summary (called the SAR—Student Aid Report) that details what financial aid you are offered. After that you get to choose the financial aid offerings that work best for you.
What will I be offered?
The financial aid offered is on a case-by-case basis; however, listed below are the most common types of aid offered to students.
- Subsidized Stafford Loan (2014-2015 is fixed 4.66% interest to begin accruing after graduation, 0% interest while in school)
- Unsubsidized Stafford Loan (2014-2015 is fixed 4.66% interest begins accruing immediately but no payment until after graduation—interest is amortized onto principle after graduation)
- Federal Perkins Loan (2014-2015 fixed 5% interest / similar to the Stafford loans but lent by the school)
- Federal Work-Study Program (student can obtain a certain amount of part-time work, and usually the school pays half the wages with the federal government covering the other half)
- PLUS–Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (2014-2015 fixed 7.21% interest borrowed by the parent(s) of the student)
Grants & Scholarships
- Residency based grants or scholarships
- Merit-based awards for high academic achievements
Very important to note about FAFSA and residency/in-state tuition…
If a student is looking to earn residency and in-state tuition, then it is crucial to fully understand the specific school’s regulations when it comes to financial aid via the FAFSA and the awards offered.
- Many times a PLUS loan will disqualify a student from earning in-state tuition should the school’s financial requirements mandate the student to be financially self-sufficient wholly or partially.
- Any financial aid including grants and scholarships that requires the student to be a tax dependent of someone OR requires them to be an out-of-state resident will in general disqualify from establishing residency. Thus, by accepting such awards the student would get no closer to in-state tuition. There are some exceptions to this whereby certain awards can be accepted during the domicile period, but will automatically be forgone upon earning in-state status (due to the much lower cost of tuition then).
- Financial aid is re-assessed after earning in-state status and the Expected Family Contribution will be taken into consideration in light of the vastly reduced tuition that would be owed.