Getting student aid may be easier than you think.
Story: Anthony ONeal
Parents, do you have a rising or current college student? Have you filled out this year’s FAFSA, or free application for federal student aid? You might be thinking, “Nope. We don’t have time to fill out another form.” But trust me, the potential savings are worth the time.
Here are five things you need to know about the FAFSA:
The FAFSA isn’t as confusing as it sounds
The FAFSA is pretty simple. Schools use the FAFSA to decide how much money to offer your child for college through student loans and scholarships or grants. Which one of those do you want to avoid? That’s right: student loans!
A ton of scholarships and grants are available. They can come from your child’s school, the government, even local organizations. Every dollar will help your child steer clear of thousands of dollars in debt. The FAFSA is the key to unlocking all those possibilities, as well as the Federal Work Study Program, another great way for your child to earn money in college.
But the truth is, only about 45 percent of high school seniors complete the FAFSA by graduation. This leaves piles of money unused. The U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion to students every year—take the money.
So, why don’t more students complete their FAFSA? Well, there are plenty of myths about the form. Two of the biggest ones are:
“The FAFSA takes too much time to fill out.” No, it doesn’t. It takes less than 30 minutes.
“Not everyone needs to complete it.” Everyone should fill out the FAFSA. There is no income cutoff to be eligible for aid, and you never know how much you might qualify for unless you try.
The FAFSA is easy to find
All your child needs to do is go to studentaid.ed.gov, the official FAFSA website. You can find the form there, plus plenty of helpful information on different types of aid and how to avoid scams.
The FAFSA has a deadline
Teens shouldn’t wait until they know where they’re going to college to fill out the form. The application period opens Oct. 1, and it’s smart to apply as soon as possible. Deadlines vary by state, so head to the FAFSA website to find out your state’s exact requirements. Your child also should check for deadlines on their potential university’s website.
The FAFSA follow-up process is simple
Once your teen has filled out the FAFSA, they’ll receive an EFC, or expected family contribution. It’s an estimate of how much money you and your child can afford to contribute to the college fund. The Federal Student Aid office then sends that number to schools to determine the student’s financial need. Generally, the lower the dollar figure, the more aid the student is eligible for.
Next, the schools to which your child applies will look at his or her FAFSA numbers and send an award letter with details about the aid they can get. Award letters can be tricky, because it’s not always clear whether your child is being offered a scholarship, a grant, or a loan. Read the fine print, and don’t let them sign up for anything until you’re sure they don’t have to pay it back later.
Filling out the FAFSA isn’t a one-time deal
Your child should fill out the FAFSA every year, even after starting college. They can keep getting scholarships and grants all four years. What’s not to love about that?
About the writer
Since 2003, Anthony ONeal has helped thousands of students make good decisions with their money, relationships, and education. He’s the best-selling author of “Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College.” His latest book and video kit is “Teen Entrepreneur Toolbox.” See anthonyoneal.com or facebook.com/aoneal.