5 FAFSA Questions for More Financial Aid
When it comes to reducing your costs for college, one of the most important actions you can take is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is a free form from the federal government (yes, it is free, so if you find a website trying to charge for completion, don’t use that site), but it is also the gateway to receiving aid directly from the schools themselves in many cases. Even if a school requires additional forms, most will require the FAFSA as well, or may reduce the amount of aid your student can qualify for if you do not fill out the FAFSA. Many states also use the FAFSA for awarding state aid to your student.
There are many misconceptions about the FAFSA and financial aid, so today we are answering 5 questions that people often get wrong or make mistakes with, which can make a huge difference in how much aid your family is eligible for.
1.) How does the FAFSA work?
The FAFSA is used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine how much federal student aid your student is qualified to receive. After receiving your forms, the government will analyze the financial information you submitted, and use it to calculate your Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI is a somewhat complicated calculation that will determine what the government estimates that your family can afford to pay out-of-pocket for college that year. This is probably the most important number that you will need to know in order to properly plan for college.
Once the federal and state governments have calculated your SAI, they will also assess which government grants you may be eligible for, and then will pass along your info to any colleges that you listed on the FAFSA. (This is why your SAI will always be the same, regardless of which college you choose – another common question we hear from families.)
The college then will put together an award package for you, which will attempt to fill the gap between your SAI and the total cost of attendance (COA) for that school. (The gap may be filled with loans, work study, and/or other awards directly from the college itself.) Some schools may also require your student to fill out their own financial aid forms as well in order to qualify for their aid packages.
However, the school also takes other factors into consideration besides just the FAFSA, such as how eager they are to have your student at their school, as well as how much financial aid they have available to award in a given year. Prestigious schools have large endowment funds that they are willing to spend on attracting the type of students they want. If your student has high accolades in high school, and meets other criteria that a school is looking for, an ivy league school could in fact end up being cheaper for your student to attend than a local school in your state!
This is why we urge our families not to get “sticker shock,” and to apply to some schools that may seem to be a “reach,” especially if your student has good grades and test scores.
2.) Am I eligible to fill out the FAFSA?
Most U.S. students are, but in case you’re not sure, here are the qualifications:
- You are a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen.
- You have a social security number.
- You have a high school diploma or GED.
- You don’t currently owe refunds on federal student debts.
- You are not in default on any student loans.
- You have an unusual immigrant status
- You have a non-traditional family
- You don’t depend on one or both parents
(For more details, visit this site.)
3.) Should I still fill out the FAFSA if my family makes too much money to qualify for financial aid?
In a word, YES!
First of all, financial aid is awarded based on a wide variety of factors – not just your income. In many cases, families qualify for aid even when they didn’t think they would! The FAFSA also factors in things such as parents’ ages and marital status, the number of people in your family, and other considerations that can impact your aid eligibility. And, as mentioned above, some states and schools will also award aid based on the FAFSA.
Not filling out the form could potentially cost you thousands of dollars, so isn’t it worth taking 30 minutes to fill out the free form?
Non-traditional students, as well as those applying to graduate, career, or online schools should also fill out the FAFSA.
4.) Can I apply as an independent?
We often hear this question from students who are not going to receive help from their parents in paying for college. However, unfortunately, this alone doesn’t qualify you for independent status. Most students will still need to record their parents’ income and assets on the FAFSA, even if their parents are not willing to help cover the cost of college. The government has strict rules in place on dependency status, but if you do meet these qualifications, it can result in a much larger financial aid package.
Here are the qualifications – you will need to meet at least ONE of these in order to qualify as independent:
- You will be 24 or older by Dec. 31 of the school year you are applying for.
- You are married.
- You have at least one child that receives at least half of their financial support from you.
- You have any other dependents that receive at least half of their financial support from you.
- You will be enrolling at the graduate level, rather than undergraduate.
- You are a qualified veteran of the U.S. military or currently serving on active duty.
- You are an orphan, ward of the court, or have been in foster care at any time after the age of 13.
- You are in legal guardianship.
- You are an emancipated minor.
- You are a youth that has been homeless or at risk of being homeless.
If you do not meet any of these qualifications, but you still feel that you should be considered as an independent, you may request a dependency override. You will need to indicate on your FAFSA that you have a special circumstance, and explain why you feel you should be considered for an override. Your FAFSA reviewer will consider your request and decide whether or not you qualify to file as an independent.
5.) What will filing the FAFSA do for me?
As we mentioned above, the FAFSA unleashes much of the financial aid available to your student. In addition to state funds and potential money from the schools themselves, the FAFSA also qualifies you for 3 potential types of aid: Grants (money you do not have to pay back), loans (money that will have to be repaid – with interest), and work study (the opportunity to earn tax-free income to help pay for college costs by working while in school).
There are several types of grants awarded through the FAFSA, including Federal Pell Grants (need-based grants typically awarded to undergraduate students and determined based on the family’s financial situation, the cost of attendance at the chosen school, and the student’s enrollment status), Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) (awarded to undergraduate students with significant need), TEACH Grants (specifically available to students interested in a teaching career), and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants (for students that have lost a parent in military service).
There are also a variety of loans and work study opportunities available. You should carefully consider these, and do your best to minimize loans whenever possible. You may wish to consult with a qualified college financial consultant for assistance with determining which options are best for your family.
If you have any questions, or would like to speak with one of our college planning specialists for assistance with this process, please contact us via our contact form, or call 614-300-9498.
The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is not a solicitation for the purchase of any financial product. The statements and opinions expressed are those of the author and are subject to change at any time. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, presenting financial professional makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. This material has been prepared for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, accounting, legal, tax or investment advice.