With the rising costs of post-secondary education today, obtaining financial assistance for tuition and expenses has become vital. However, there is help available when time is set aside for completing FAFSA form.
Here is a guide for accessing the site for federal aid. As you will see, many options are available along with assistance from personnel from your local school district, college, or through the site itself which also offers “live” help from individuals who work in this sector.
Research Various Types of Aid Available
The preliminary steps involve researching the types of aid that are available to your student. (Now keep in mind that filling out the FAFSA is very much a given no matter what type of aid you opt for.) In general, there are 3 types:
Loans—money that you borrow and must repay with interest but can be deferred until after graduation or repaid while your student is still attending school
Grants—financial aid that doesn’t require payment; though in some situations, specific conditions might apply
Work study—a program in which the student works a part-time job on campus to help pay for tuition
All of these forms of financial aid will assist with tuition and possibly other expenses such as:
Room and board
Books and supplies.
The type of aid that you opt for can depend on your financial situation, your student’s class schedule (in the case of work study), or the school the student will attend.
Finalize your Most Recent Income Tax Information
The next step is file your income tax as soon as possible. Your gross annual income will help determine how much federal aid you’ll qualify for. At the same time, if you choose the route of a federal student loan or a private loan, you’ll still need this information along with proof of income.
At this point in the year, if you’re starting this process, you can utilize your most recent income tax returns. For example, for this year, you can use the income tax returns from 2017. However, if you’re filing in early 2019, you will need the returns from 2018. Either way, this information is necessary to be able to move on to the next step.
Preview Informational Summaries about the FAFSA
Filling out the form, itself, involves multiple steps. So you might consider reading an information overview that details this process. Sites, like FAFSA.gov, have concise instructions for both accessing and filling out the form.
Also, you can watch a video online which takes you through the procedure of completing the form. Other videos simply address frequently asked questions or offer tips for parents. Nonetheless, obtaining information beforehand can alleviate any concerns (and possibly frustration) as well as inform you as to what documents you need to have available before you get started.
Create an FSA ID
As you start the process, you will need to create a Federal Student Aid ID or FSA. This allows you to go back to your form if, for whatever reason, you couldn’t complete it in one sitting. Additionally, this identifier will give you access to any updates on your status once the form is submitted or if you need to make any changes like adding a college to your list. Most importantly, it serves as an electronic signature since you establish the password and would have to verify your identity to create the ID.
Access the Application
The latest form is usually released in October. Ideally, it should be filled out and submitted as close to that date as possible. On the other hand, finding out the deadlines for your student’s chosen schools would be helpful as well since some institutions accept applications for acceptance and financial aid in the spring.
The fastest way to get a response is to submit the form electronically, but if you still prefer to use a hard copy, you can download a PDF file to print, fill out, and mail.
Obtain Assistance for Filling out the App
Don’t feel bad if you run into a stumbling block along the way while applying for financial aid. Many parents and guardians encounter obstacles during this process. However, you can find free help through any of the following modes:
A toll-free number: 1-800-4-FED-AID—offers live assistance with troubleshooting or any other questions related to paying for college
Customer Service at a college’s financial aid office or a high school academic advisor
Community events sponsored by various organizations such as Workforce Solutions or Gear Up
The help section of sites that are linked to FAFSA
Although, you might have to pay a fee, you can also consult with the CPA who prepares your forms for filing your income tax if you don’t complete your own. Chances are if this accountant can’t answer your questions, then he or she knows of someone who can.
Review the SAR and Address any Issues
Once you’ve submitted your financial aid application, then you’ll receive a Student Aid Report or SAR. The wait-time for receiving the SAR depends on which method you utilized to submit your application. In other words, if you submitted the form electronically, then you’ll receive your SAR anywhere from 3 to 5 days. If you mailed your form, then it can take a few weeks.
This information will prove to be quite valuable since it contains the following:
Expected Family Contribution—the amount that you might be able to pay towards tuition and expenses
Data Release Number—which allows the chosen college or vocation school to change certain information on your application (with your permission only)
Any issues where information is missing from the application or if your application has been chosen for verification
Closely reviewing the SAR is imperative to the completion of the entire process. If you receive a notification on the SAR that indicates an incomplete form or a need for verification, you can call the hotline number (mentioned earlier) or visit FAFSA.gov to find out what the next steps are. Also, it’s important to keep track of your FSA ID since this allows you to return to your application and correct any mistakes or provide missing information.
Finally, remember that patience is key when it comes to applying for financial help. Plus, you can seek assistance from personnel in the finance office at any local college or from an advisor at a local high school.