Filling Out FAFSA: Students Tips To Getting It Done

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    Let’s start with the basics. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, an online financial form that you have to fill out if you want any kind of financial aid. It is critical for you to fill it out if you have any sort of need because it’s the main resource colleges use to determine what your financial aid package will look like. FAFSA uses a complex algorithm using your financial information, demographics, and more to determine your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges use your EFC to determine what kind of aid package and scholarships you will get. 

    The Logistics

    • FAFSA opens in October of the year before the school year you are receiving aid for and the deadline to apply is June 30th, during the summer before the school year begins. For example, it opened in October 2018 for applicants to apply for their 2019 school year, and the deadline was in June 2019. Even though it sounds like a lot of time, you should fill out your FAFSA as soon as possible because federal grants are given on a first come first serve basis. Submitting your FAFSA faster can substantially increase the aid you receive.
    • The only people who don’t have to worry about FAFSA are people whose families are completely comfortable paying for college out of pocket every year. However, don’t assume because your parents make a lot of money that you shouldn’t fill out FAFSA. If there’s any significant financial considerations, like somebody in your family having to pay high medical bills due to a condition, then you should at least try submitting your FAFSA.
    • You’ll want to start out by creating an FSA ID on their website,  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa. FAFSA uses this to track all of your information and you’ll also use it to log in to their portal. Even if your parent is filling out your FAFSA, they’ll still need your FSA ID.
    • To prepare to fill out FAFSA, you should gather any significant identity and financial resources your family has, such as:
      • Your driver’s license
      • Your social security number
      • Your parents’ social security numbers
      • Your family’s tax returns from the most recent year they’re available
      • W2 forms from your parent(s) if they’re currently working
      • Any significant bank statements
      • Any significant expense reports
      • Information on family assets, retirement, investments, or other benefits
    • If any of these things aren’t familiar to you, then just ask your parents or figure it out as you’re going through the form.

    How to Fill it Out

    • Start at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa and click “Start Here” or “Log In” depending on whether you have an FSA ID. If you’ve already created your FSA ID then click “Log in.”
    • Save the link to FAFSA and check the URL every time you edit/fill out your FAFSA and make sure that it the only website where you’re giving financial information. Never give out personal financial information like credit card numbers, routing numbers, or account numbers. If it’s asking about your personal financial information, then you’re on the wrong website. Any time you’re dealing with finances, there will be people that could potentially try to take advantage of you. As long as the URL is correct, then you’ll be safe to give your general financial information.
    • It should then show you a summary of your account based on the school year. Click on the school year you’re applying for and then click either FAFSA Renewal or Start New FAFSA, depending on whether you’ve done FAFSA before.
    • The renewal will save all of your past information, ask you to verify it, and then ask you only current questions, like your latest W2’s. This will save a lot of time, so don’t expect every FAFSA to be as time consuming as the first.
    • Once you’ve begun the application, it will ask you a series of financial and demographic questions which you should answer to the best of your ability.
    • At the end of your FAFSA, it will ask you which schools you’d like your FAFSA to be sent to. Choose all of the schools that you’re considering (if you’re in the application process) or choose the school you’re attending. Don’t worry if you forget a school or want to transfer, you can always return to your FAFSA to update your information or change your schools, you’ll just have to wait a for the changes to be processed.
    • Once you’ve successfully completed your FAFSA, you’re all set. Any colleges you listed will now have your FAFSA on file. 
      • If you’re in the application process, when they get your application, your FAFSA will also pop up in their records so that they can determine your financial aid package.
      • If you’re attending a school and renewing your FAFSA, your adjusted financial package will show up in the financial portal after your FAFSA has been processed.
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    Sean Fowler

    Writer

    Aerospace Engineering at UMD, intending to specialize in aeronautics with a focus on aerospace structures and design.

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