How the FAFSA can make college more affordable.
It’s no secret that the average cost of college has been on the rise for years, and many people take a look at the stated cost of a year’s tuition and assume they’ll never be able to afford it. While it’s true that these expenses can cause sticker shock, the price listed is often not the price you’ll end up paying. What’s the tool that makes paying for college more realistic? The FAFSA.
Here’s what you need to know about this important document and how it can unlock doors when it comes to money for college.
What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a form managed by the U.S. government to determine what kinds of student aid, scholarships, work study opportunities, and student loans are available.
When is the FAFSA due?
The FAFSA opened on Friday, October 1, 2021 for the 2022-2023 school year. While, technically speaking, you can fill out the FAFSA at any time before June 30, the sooner you fill it out, the more opportunities there are available to you.
Many financial aid programs that use the FAFSA to determine eligibility operate on a first-come, first-served basis. The sooner you get your information submitted, the more likely there will be funds available.
Speaking to CNBC, Manny Changs — who serves as vice president for Discover Student Loans — explained that the FAFSA is the key to more than just federal funding: “The FAFSA opens the door to various types of funding opportunities; it’s not just federal aid.”
Who should fill out the FAFSA?
Everyone should fill out the FAFSA! Many people skip filling out the form because they assume they won’t qualify for aid. This is a serious misconception. In fact, 86% of those attending a four-year college for the first time qualified for some kind of financial aid.
The FAFSA is a complex document that takes into account not just overall income but also the number of children in a family, other financial obligations within the household, and more.
Never assume that you won’t qualify just based on the household income. It’s best to fill out the form and see. When it comes to funding the expense of a college education, every little bit helps, and most people who fill out the FAFSA will see some funds as a result.
What kind of aid could I qualify to receive?
Generally speaking, financial aid tends to fall into two categories: merit-based and need-based. Merit-based awards are given for a particular achievement or talent (such as an award based on high school GPA or a record-breaking sprinting time). Need-based aid, on the other hand, is given based on the income needs of the household. This is where the FAFSA comes in. It determines how much “need” a particular student has.
Based on the information you submit on the FAFSA, you could qualify for many kinds of aid, including the following:
- Scholarships/Grants– This is a kind of financial aid that is given without the need to repay it. There are federal, state, and private need-based scholarships that may require the FAFSA for eligibility.
One of the most well-known and widespread federal grants is the Pell Grant program. The FAFSA is used to determine eligibility for these funds and in what amount they will be awarded.
- Student Loans- Ideally, most college-goers are seeking financial aid that does not have to be repaid, but many people fill the gaps with student loans. Qualifying for federal student loan programs — which come with set interest rates secured for life — requires completion of the FAFSA.
- Work Study Programs- Many employment positions on college campuses are designated for those receiving work study funding. The FAFSA determines qualification for these positions.
How do I fill out the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is available online, and it takes most people around 30 minutes to fill it out. You’ll need some paperwork and information like your Social Security Number and financial records (or those of your parents if you are a dependent).
The form is available in both English and Spanish, and the online system has built-in help features to make completing it as smooth and straightforward as possible.
Check out this video to see more about the process:
Don’t let the high prices of college tuition keep you from following your dreams. Filling out the FAFSA as soon as possible is the best way to get a clear picture of your financial needs, so you can make an informed choice about which college to attend and what it will take to get there.