Ghouls and goblins aren’t the only thing lurking around the corner this season. Big changes…
The financial aid eligibility process can be tedious and difficult to navigate. Planning ahead and starting the process early is a great way to ensure that your journey is as smooth as possible. So, let’s get started with how to file FAFSA.
How to File FAFSA
It is in your best interest to make completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) a priority. I recommend completing it as early as October 1 your senior year, and each year you are in college thereafter. With a 2-year look-back on your income (for the 2022/2023 FAFSA you will use your 2020 tax return) you have plenty of time to be prepared with your tax documents.
It is best to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically link your tax return to your FAFSA, an action that will help you avoid a process that is called Verification (but we’ll get to that a bit later).
When thinking about how to file FAFSA, think of it like buying concert tickets for a really popular band. If you’re not in line and ready to buy when they go on sale, you may end up with seats in the back row!
By filing your FAFSA early, you receive priority status, as colleges and universities consider students for need-based aid. In addition to federal aid, such as the Pell Grant and various student loan programs, many states offer special funding for students who qualify. In 2021, Illinois students with significant financial need who planned to attend college in-state and filed their FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1, 2020 can qualify for the Monetary Award Program. These state awards are made until funds are depleted. Many of my students in this situation received around $5,340 in money for college that does not need to be repaid. As you can see, there is a benefit to filing early!
The FAFSA itself is merely an application for federal and state financial aid, the FAFSA does not give you anything….except your EFC!
The school you attend is considered the administrator of the funds for which you qualify and will notify you of your eligibility. As long as your school has all the required information (including your FAFSA) and you have been accepted to the school, you typically receive a financial aid Award Letter in March or April.
Read here for more information on the EFC. This article will help to explain exactly what makes up this number, which is what the family is expected to pay.
The Award Letter gives you an outline of the financial aid you will receive for the coming school year. It details the cost of attendance and lists the aid available to you including grants, scholarships, loans, and work study. You do not have to accept any of the aid offered, but you do need to respond to let them know of your intentions. If you find yourself in a situation where you have not received an Award Letter by mid-April, reach out to the college or university’s Office of Financial Aid to inquire about the status of your application.
If you have been selected for Verification, the important thing is to not panic. Verification is simply a means of requesting documentation to support what you stated on your FAFSA. If you were truthful and accurate when reporting your financial situation on your FAFSA (as you should be), Verification will be simple and relatively painless. It is often a matter of completing an additional form (or three) to clarify your dependency status, source, amount of household income, household size, or some other piece of information that triggered a request for a second look.
If you find yourself lost or questioning how to file FAFSA, know that you are not alone. You are always welcome to contact your Admissions or Financial Coach at My College Planning Team for assistance. We look forward to being your guide on the road to a bright future.