I would have typically done a workshop or webinar, but with little time, I wasn’t able. I do want to provide some answers to the most common questions and concerns about the FAFSA and feel free to comment if there are more questions that I can answer.
1) What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The federal government created this method to compile data for universities, specifically in how the federal government allocates aid to the universities. Stafford loans, for example, are federal loans that are given to the university and then disbursed to the student. By completing the FAFSA, the federal government knows how much money to distribute to the university on your behalf.
2) Who provides the aid?
The federal government provides the loans and work study funds, but the scholarships are coming from the university. This means two important things: 1) Even if you think you will not qualify for federal loans, you should still complete the FAFSA as the university is the one to provide all of the aid; and 2) if you believe there should be an adjustment to your aid package, you would discuss that with the university, not necessarily the federal government. There are limits to the amount of loans that a student can accept, but the university may have merit and need-based scholarships that it can provide.
Some universities may also ask for additional financial documents. I have most often seen universities ask for documentation related to single family households. This is especially important for families who may be separated, but not yet legally.
3) What if I don’t agree with the amount that the FAFSA says I can contribute?
You can make a change with the federal government or you could contact the university that your student will be attending.
4) How does the FAFSA calculate aid?
The FAFSA uses your salary and liquid assets and cost of living to determine aid. This can become complicated for a few reasons especially when students live in two or more households or for those of us in California when applying to public universities where the cost of living is lower. Also keep in mind that you are not expected to mortgage your home and cash out your life insurance. But you will have to add salary, college savings plans, and other savings when completing the application.
Also keep in mind that when they are calculating how much you can afford, they are taking into account dependents that are already in college. Often times when I have clients who will have more than one student in college, I ask that they consider how much they can swing when the one student is in college as the second student will definitely increase the aid amount for everyone.
5) What should I know about the FAFSA as it relates to my college list?
You will have the opportunity to list the colleges you would like the FAFSA information to go to. Some people believe that the order in which you list the colleges you are applying to, says something about how you prioritize them. When College X is listed last, College X thinks you don’t want to go there. While there are some changes being made to release less information to the colleges, my advice is to list the schools in the order you need aid from them. So the more expensive schools should go higher on the list.
6) What happens if our financial situation changes after the FAFSA is submitted?
This is definitely a great reason to call the federal government or the university (if your student has been admitted).
7) When can I submit the FAFSA?
The early FAFSA is available October 1st so get ready to file!
8) Can I complete the FAFSA if I do not have a social security number?
Yes. When you arrive at the portion for the social security number and you do not have a social security number or tax ID, you can enter all zeroes to continue to the next screen. You may have to enter the zeroes multiple times before it lets you move forward. I definitely recommend that if you are in this situation, you have already spoken to an attorney and submitted all necessary documents. Because of the waiting period, I also recommend completing these forms well in advance of the senior year of high school.
I hope that helps! Be sure to ask any questions in the comments.