How to Apply for Financial Aid

January 6, 2020

 

To be considered for federal student aid for the 2020-2021 award year, you can complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between October 1, 2019 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2021. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by midnight Central Time, September 14, 2021.

 

However, many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline at studentaid.ed.gov. Check with your college about its deadlines.

 

Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1 to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.

 

Students Use Earlier Income Information

In the past, the deadline for filling out the FAFSA was January 1st. This change first began with the 2017–18 FAFSA when students were required to report income and tax information from an earlier tax year. For example, on the 2017–18 FAFSA, students (and parents, as appropriate) reported their 2015 income and tax information, rather than their 2016 income tax information.

 

Be sure to consider the option in FAFSA on the Web to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). This option is available whether you filed your taxes electronically or by mail. The IRS DRT takes you to the IRS Web site, where you will need to log in by providing your name and other information exactly as you provided it on your tax return. At the IRS site, you can preview your information before agreeing to have it transferred to your FAFSA. 

 

Once you have completed the personal information on the FAFSA, follow the instructions for listing the colleges you wish to have the information sent to. If you are applying online, the code number will automatically be inserted according to a prompt. If you are filing a paper application, you can get the code from fafsa.ed.gov, the high school guidance office, or from the specific college. The application will also ask you what state you live in and based on this, will send the information to your state’s financial aid agency so you will be considered for state scholarship and grant programs. Finally, the information will automatically be sent to the Pell Grant program.

 

Expected Family Contribution

The Department of Education (ED) provides all of these agencies and institutions with an analysis of the information you have provided on the FAFSA according to a Congressional formula. The formula is used to determine how much a family might be expected to pay toward the applicant’s education (family contribution). This amount, called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), will be used to determine whether or not the student has “financial need,” which is what defines eligibility for most financial aid programs.

 

The formula takes into consideration such things as family income, assets, number of people in the family, federal and state taxes paid, the number of children in college, and a number of other factors. The calculation does not factor in equity in your home or funds in a 401K or other retirement accounts.

 

Families should be aware that an asset reported in the parents’ name is assessed at a lower rate than if that same asset were reported in the student’s name. This figure can make a considerable difference in the EFC.

 

The FAFSA does not provide space to explain any unusual circumstances (unemployment, large medical bills, tuition for other children in elementary or secondary school). These circumstances should be carefully explained and documented wherever possible and sent directly to the financial aid office of the college to which you are applying. The college financial aid officer will determine whether or not the unusual circumstances will be taken into consideration.

 

Students and parents can calculate what their Expected Family Contribution would be by using an online calculator like the FAFSA4Caster available at fafsa.ed.gov. Take into consideration that financial need is a relative figure and will vary depending on each college’s overall costs.

 

Normally, the FAFSA will ask for income for the student and the student’s parents. In cases where  the student’s parents are divorced or separated, or the student is filing as an independent student, meaning that only his or her income is reported, special care should be taken in completing the application to be sure that accurate income information is supplied. Instructions for these and other unusual circumstances are available at fafsa.ed.gov.

 

When the financial aid officer receives the analysis, the information is reviewed and any necessary adjustments are made to the evaluation. The adjusted EFC is matched against the college’s cost of attendance (COA) to determine if the student demonstrates financial need. At this point the financial aid officer would notify the student of his or her award or indicate that the student is not eligible for aid.

 

The applicant will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which includes the EFC. The figure usually appears right under the date the report was sent. The student, colleges, and all federal and state agencies receive the same EFC. The SAR also summarizes the information you have provided on the FAFSA. The report will also indicate whether or not you are eligible for a Pell Grant.

 

Some colleges may require additional applications (either the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, available at bigfuture.collegeboard.org, or a separate financial aid application specifically for that college) for use in awarding their own aid money. Be sure to check with the colleges to which you are applying to see what applications are required.

 

Whether you apply for federal, state, or institutional aid, you should be sure to complete all forms accurately and honestly and be sure to submit them before the established deadlines.

 

Financial Aid “Packaging”

Most colleges combine various types of awards into a “package” in an attempt to meet a student’s financial need. Thus a student with a financial need of $10,000 might be awarded a $7,000 college grant and a $3,000 College Work-Study job. The college also takes into consideration aid that a student has received from other sources. For example, if a student receives a Pell Grant or a state scholarship, the college would take these resources into consideration when determining the student’s financial need. All of these funds would be outlined in the student’s financial aid package.

 

Appeals

If the family is not satisfied with a student’s financial aid package, they should appeal to the financial aid office at the college. Simply indicate the student’s strong interest in the particular college and ask if the award can be reviewed, or if there are other sources of aid that might be pursued.

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