The first question prospective students ask when thinking about college is how are they going to afford it. In most cases, the answer is by applying for federal student aid. However, a significant number of people believe they won’t qualify for financial aid, missing out on almost $3 billion of unclaimed grant money last year.
To not leave this money behind, prospective students must complete a form called FAFSA, or Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. There are no restrictions on who can receive financial assistance to complete their education. The only disqualifying criteria is to not fill out the form.
What Is a FAFSA form?
Each year, the U.S. Department of Education approves more than $120 billion in financial assistance for students. This includes federal grants, loans and work-study funds accessible to more than 13 million current and prospective students. As a result, the government has become the largest sponsor of student financial aid nationwide.
The FAFSA is the document used by the government to determine how much assistance a current or prospective students qualifies for. The form must be submitted annually by both undergraduate and graduate students, and includes financial information about them and their families.
The FAFSA should not be confused with College Scholarship Service or CSS Profile, which some colleges also request. A CSS Profile, is an application distributed by nonprofit organization College Board that allows college students to access lesser known sources of financial aid. However, students must pay to complete a CSS Profile, and it only grants access to funding from institutions rather than the federal government.
Who needs to complete a FAFSA form?
The FAFSA form should be completed by anyone who is or may enroll in the future. Whether they are a high school senior or continuing education as an adult, filing a FAFSA form is critical to access financial aid. A common misconception is that only currently enrolled students have access to a FAFSA form. However, the government has no restrictions on who can do so other than being a U.S. citizen or legal resident. The FAFSA application is easiest if completed online. On average it will take 23 minutes to complete according to a survey by FastWeb.
Why students need to complete the FAFSA form?
The main reason to fill out a FAFSA form is because it gives prospective students access to financial assistance. The government relies on information provided through a FAFSA form to determine which type of aid is best for a particular student. However, to help federal authorities better determine how much help someone needs, people have to submit a FAFSA form every year.
Aside from Pell and FSEOG grants, the government also allocates resources federal student loans according to the FAFSA. The form allows agencies to set reasonable repayment terms that students can meet based on the averages.
How to fill out the form
The FAFSA form is submitted through the U.S. Department of Education website. Applicants will need to create an account before submitting the documents needed to complete the form. Adult students will have to provide their social security number and driver’s license number. Legal residents must provide their Alien Registration number.
Tax documents are also needed to complete the FAFSA. Tax returns for those who have held a job before, W-2 documents, records of untaxed income and bank statements may be required in some cases but not all. The Internal Revenue System (IRS) has a useful tool called Data Retrieval Tool, or DRT, which can be used to perform an automatic transfer of tax information from the prior year’s tax filing to the FAFSA application. The online application will request your permission to search for a prior year’s tax return.
During this process, prospective students must choose at least one college or career school they would like to attend. However, this doesn’t mean they must enroll to any of those listed. The chosen institutions will receive submitted information and help federal authorities determine how much financial aid will be awarded.
The U.S. Department of Education continues to improve the process of awarding students financial aid. An annual budget of $120 billion for current and prospective students should be enough incentive to seek financial support. There are funds available for everybody who applies.