Congratulations, recent high school grads and returning adults! If you are entering college for the first time or after a long hiatus, give yourself a pat on the back for having the courage to change your life, the strength to be vulnerable while learning something new, and the self-awareness to know that there is always more to learn and opportunities for growth. While this time can be exciting, many entering college freshmen are shaking in their boots, especially those of us who are first-generation college students. With only counselors to navigate you through the enrollment process, and the common fear of “sounding stupid”, we often don’t ask the questions that we desperately need answers to, and instead rush to our phones to google “What is a Fafsa”, “How to pick classes”, and other questions that get our heart beating and cause our mind to lie to us with that entirely dumb, baseless, anxiety-provoking belief that “We do not belong.” Did I mention how big of a lie that is? Don’t believe it. Ask questions, and research until you get your answers. Not only can you, but you WILL do this. You got it in the bag, and knowing that you are the about to enhance your educational institution of choice in a great way with your different perspectives, knowledge of self, and resilience, I am jumping at the opportunity to share whatever tools I can to help you along your journey, basically, I want to get in on your greatness!
First step to greatness, how are we paying for this thing? Meet FAFSA.
What is FAFSA, and why is everyone always talking about it?
Great question. When I worked in enrollment, I said the word FAFSA so much that I forgot what it stood for. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is just that, an application. To make it simple, it’s a government application where you apply for funding for college.
Funding? Are you referring to loans?
Not solely. Once the application is processed, you receive an award letter. The award letter details all the different funds you are eligible to receive. These funding sources include loans and grants. Loans, you must pay back, but grants, are free money aka a college student’s best friend. You then get to choose what awards you accept. For example, if your institution’s tuition is $40k a year, and you are awarded $30k in grants and $10k in loans, you can decide to accept the $30k in grants and decline the $10k in loans, which you can make up out-of-pocket, scholarships, or maybe a private loan (one that is not through the FAFSA and you apply for separately.)
How does the government determine how much money I am awarded?
The FAFSA requires your and/or your parents’ tax information, meaning you must put in information backed on your filing. In years past, you were permitted to use the previous year’s tax return, but this year, the requirements have loosened up a bit more, and you can go as far as two years back. This is helpful for those who did not file on time for the FAFSA deadline but need to apply.
Wait. What? There’s a deadline?
Don’t be that person on July 1st attempting to fill out a FAFSA for the upcoming Academic Year. For Academic Year 2017-18, the Federal Deadline is June 30, 2018 at midnight. Your State and School deadlines may be before this. This is important to know since many schools don’t process FAFSA applications after a certain date, effecting money, if any, you could have been offered from the school. The State deadline effects any grant money that you may be offered from the State.
Check out Federal and State deadlines for the 2017-2018 Academic Year at https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm# .
My parents, or I, make too much. I’m positive I won’t receive any aid. Should I apply?
I recommend ALL students apply. Even if you do not qualify for grants, may scholarships require that you submit a FAFSA before applying. Also, you might be surprised, and qualify for a grant. With the increasingly high cost of tuition in the United States of America, which is another conversation all on its own, every little bit counts, so don’t take the chance of missing out on a few extra dollars.
Where can I find the FAFSA?
Although in the past the FAFSA is not made available until January, this year the FAFSA has been available since October. It can be found at https://fafsa.ed.gov . If you somehow end up on a site requiring you to pay for the FAFSA, do not pass go, do not collect $20, because you, my friend, are in the wrong place. If you need help completing your FAFSA, contact your institution of interest or local community college. Community Colleges typically offer workshops and one-on-one support. Also, be mindful, just because you list a school on your FAFSA, you are not committed to attending that school, so list every college you are interested in. You can also go back and add other schools after your application is submitted.
Happy Filing, and Be Great!