I am sure by this point, most of you have selected and applied to some colleges already. OK, step one is over; step two is making sure you can pay for it. I talked to Keuka College’s Financial Aid Office and got some inside tips, cleared up some misconceptions, and compiled a useful, “how-to,” post to help you and your family find funding to attend college. You can check out independent loan and scholarship options (like from fastweb.com) and apply for separate scholarships (or in Keuka’s case, just apply by Jan. 31, 2012-this deadline is just for Merit aid); however, unless you are an heir to a considerable inheritance, you must fill out your FAFSA, the US Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
But what is the FAFSA? And why is it so important? According to the official FAFSA site, fafsa.ed.gov:
Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded financial assistance for education beyond high school. We consistently champion the promise of postsecondary education to all Americans —and its value to our society…
Today, Federal Student Aid performs a range of critical functions that include, among others:
- Educating students and families on the process of obtaining aid;
- Processing millions of student financial aid applications each year;
- Disbursing billions of dollars in aid funds to students through schools…
In a nutshell, FAFSA is the application for federal financial assistance with the costs of college, whether it comes in grants or in loans. FAFSA applications also work for statewide aid. This post will focus on three things: what information you will need to fill out the FAFSA, how and when to fill it out, and other resources that you can utilize to make your college dream a financial reality.
For any academic year, FAFSA applications can be turned in as early as January 1st of that school year. For example, prospective college students or current high school seniors would be applying for admission for the Fall 2012-Spring 2013 academic year, so January 1st, 2012 would be the earliest that a FAFSA application can be submitted. And, no matter who you are, the closer you submit your FAFSA to January 1st, the better.
Before you fill out your FAFSA, you will need important financial information, as well as some other sensitive information, on hand. I gathered these items from my previous FAFSA for this academic year. These include:
Furthermore, the FAFSA website lists these documents as essential:
You will need records of income earned in the year prior to when you will start school. You may also need records of your parents’ income information if you are a dependent student. For the 2012-2013 school year you will need financial information from 2011. You may need to refer to:
To organize your information, you can print and complete a FAFSA on the Web Worksheet before you begin entering your information online. However, you are not required to do so. FAFSA on the Web will guide you through the questions that you must answer, and you can save your application and return to it later if you don’t have the information you need to answer any of the questions.
Keep these records! You may need them again. Do not mail your records to Federal Student Aid.
You may not have all of this information available, or, like me, you may only be living with and dependent on one parent. Just fill it out to the best of your ability. The information that is absolutely essential is income and tax information, but the more they know about you, the more likely you are to receive an informed amount of aid.
For more information or help, you can utilize the official FAFSA Worksheet that, according to the site, “provides a preview of the questions that you may be asked while completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).”
Submit your application as soon as possible–don’t wait. According to the FAFSA worksheet, “Check with your high school counselor or your college’s financial aid administrator about other deadlines. The Federal deadline is June 30, 2012.” FAFSA applications for colleges in New York State should be submitted and received no later than June 30th as well.
Keep in mind that you can go back and update your FAFSA if need be; just be sure to get the key information (most of which is on the worksheet) in initially because that will be essential to assuring that you receive aid–if you don’t have your household income (from the fiscal year preceding the academic year) in your application, your application may be rejected until this information is submitted. I did find a link to a financial aid calculator through our financial aid office’s website. While it may not match your ultimate FAFSA results, it will help give you an idea of how much aid you might receive.
Furthermore, you have 3 filing options, as outlined on the FAFSA site. You will also need to apply for a 4-digit PIN to electronically apply for federal student aid and to access your Federal Student Aid records online annually.
Also, it always helps to set up a meeting with prospective schools’ financial aid offices. Here is Keuka’s financial aid office contact information:
Keep in mind, a lot of people confuse FAFSA with the actual source of aid. The federal government and state governments are the actual source–FAFSA is just the free, government sanctioned, application. Therefore, it is important to not be fooled by phony “look-alikes” that make you pay.
Don’t go to these sites:
These Sites Offer Information, But No Application:
Keep in mind that it is always a good idea, when looking at outside site such as these to double check the information with your financial aid counselors or admissions counselors. This blog has been reviewed by members of Keuka’s financial aid team, so it provides relevant and reliable information.
Go to These Sites:
And, want more information on the types of loans and aid available? Check out: studentloans.gov. Best of luck!