FAFSA for First-Timers

To put it simply, college can be expensive. Not all of us have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on higher education, and that can become an unfair barrier for all those trying to further their learning. Luckily, that’s where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) comes in.

The FAFSA is simply an application to help you determine your eligibility for financial aid during your college career. Seniors who complete the FAFSA, will be eligible to receive financial help in the form of federal grants, student loans, and even federal work study funds. Many scholarships even require you to fill out the FAFSA. Even if you think your family would not be eligible for federal financial aid, it still doesn’t hurt to fill it out. According to Brad Barnett, director of financial aid and scholarships at James Madison University, almost all students that apply end up qualifying for some kind of financial aid.

Before filling out the form, you are going to need to know a couple things. People that are eligible for FAFSA include US citizens, those born in US territories, legal, permanent residents, and those who have an Arrival-Departure Record from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration. You are also going to need to know all the schools that you are applying to. If you do not, the schools you are seeking to apply to will have no idea that you even need the aid. 

The FAFSA requires your social security number, your driver’s license (if you have), prior-prior year tax information (for example, if you’re in the Class of 2021, you would use tax information from 2019), your current bank information, and your FSA ID, if you are participating in the online FAFSA. Your FSA ID is required in order to access the FAFSA document online, and it serves as your online signature. If you do not have an FSA ID, it is recommended that you create one a week prior to signing up for FAFSA, as it sometimes takes days for it to register. Create an FSA ID here. While you need to complete the FAFSA every year you will require financial aid, you and your parents keep one FSA ID for life. Both parents and students need to make an FSA ID, unless your parents do not have a social security number. When asked for your parent’s social security number on the FAFSA, you can enter all zeroes as an option. If your parents do not have SSNs students have to print out a form to obtain a physical signature from their parents and mail it.

 Now for the big question to be answered: How do I fill out the FAFSA? There is both an electronic version, and a physical version of the form that you can print out. The electronic version is most likely the way to go, unless you want to answer more than 100 questions on paper. 

The questions on the form vary, like your household income and demographic factors. Although these kinds of questions may feel somewhat intrusive, it is all so the FAFSA can calculate your expected family’s contributions, or the EFC. The EFC is what exactly determines your eligibility for federal student aid by determining how much your family would be able to contribute to paying for your college education. Then using the information gathered from that, the FAFSA will compare your Cost of Attendance (COA,) which includes things like the tuition, boarding, dining, and etc to your EFC. This helps the colleges you applied to see how much you will be paying.

Although it sounds like a long, arduous process, applying for the FAFSA is worth it. Even if you do not think you apply for aid, you never know. Unless you have a couple hundred thousand dollars at your disposal, you should probably do yourself a favor and fill out the FAFSA.