Whether it’s your first time filing for financial aid and you need to know how to get the ball rolling, or it’s just one more thing on your to-do list, we’re here to help you find financial aid for undergraduates! Believe it or not, getting money for college is not as confusing or complicated as you might think.
The financial aid process is a little bit different for each student, but there are a few things that hold true for just about everyone. First, apply even if you think you won’t qualify. There are many variables involved in determining eligibility and there’s just no way to know if you don’t try.
Second, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines eligibility for Federal Student Aid programs as well as eligibility for many private grant and scholarship programs. Filing the FAFSA is essential even if you don’t think you will qualify for federal financial aid.
Finally, the FAFSA is your application for federal student loan programs. If you don’t file a FAFSA, you won’t be able tot take advantage of these low cost loan programs.
Filing the FAFSA is Never a Waste of Time
While many people hate the paperwork involved, you really should file a FAFSA even if you don’t think you’re eligible for federal assistance. Why? Because the FAFSA is used by many non-government aid programs in order to determine your eligibility for the scholarships, loans, and other programs they offer. Of course, the FAFSA is also used to find out if you qualify for federal student loans.
Because of this, completing the FAFSA gives you two big advantages. First, you may be eligible for non-federal aid. And second, even if you don’t want a student loan now, the paperwork is done in case you change your mind. Finally, you might actually qualify for federal grants. Like we said earlier, there are a lot of factors that determine eligibility and it’s better to know for certain than to guess.
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
The quickest way to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is online at: FAFSA on the Web. Be sure to get your PIN at the PIN Site so that you can sign your FAFSA electroncially. Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1st of the year in which you will need funding.
When you’re ready to file, have these items handy:
- Your Social Security card and driver’s license
- our W-2 Forms or other records of earned-income (and your spouse’s, if you are married) federal income tax return.
- Your parent’s federal income tax return (unless you are filing as independent)
- Records of other untaxed income you received, including welfare benefits, social security benefits, TANF, veteran’s benefits, and military or clergy allowances
- Your current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds, and other investments
- Your business or farm records, if applicable
- Your alien registration card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
If you or your parents have not completed federal income tax returns yet, use estimates from pay stubs and bank statements.
If you or your parents’ income has not changed significantly, you have a choice. You can use the amount of tax you paid last year or you can estimate. Here’s an easy way to estimate the amount of tax you owe:
- Take the line item from your federal income tax return titled “This is your total tax.”
- Divide it by your adjusted gross income.
- Multiple this number by your estimate of this year’s adjusted gross income to obtain an estimate of the amount of you tax owe.
Other Applications You May Need to File
CSS/Financial Aid Profile®
Incoming freshman may also need to complete the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. A number of colleges and a few scholarship programs require the profile. Colleges use the extended information collected on this application to determine your eligibility for need-based assistance and funding directly from the school. You can find a list of schools that require the profile here. If your school requires it, make sure you pay attention to the date by which they want it filed–it can be much earlier than the FAFSA.
Institutional Aid Applications
Some colleges ask for additional information on a form they provide you. This is called an institutional aid application. On this form you may be asked to tell your school about outside scholarships you expect to receive and whether you’re interested in other types of aid such as work study. Often you can also use this
form to explain any special circumstances not taken into account on the FAFSA. If your school requires one of these applications, they will mail it to you.
Eligibility for Financial Aid
Read our section on financial aid eligibility to lean more about how colleges figure out how much aid you will receive.
Types of Financial Aid
We created an entire section that describes all of the types and sources of financial aid you can receive. Read it here: Types of Financial Aid
Once the college has received your FAFSA data, they may still need additional information to complete your award. This process is called “verification”. If you are selected for verification, the school will request that you fill out a Verification Worksheet, and that you provide copies of you and your parents’ federal income tax returns and W-2 wage earnings statements. Warning: the college will not process your financial aid, without this additional documentation.
If you plan on accepting Stafford or Perkins loans, you will also need to complete promissory notes. The college you attend will provide you with specific information on how to complete this part of the process. If it’s your first time borrowing a federal loan, you’ll also need to complete
an “Entrance Interview“ which is simply a session done online or in person that informs you of your rights and responsibilities as a student loan borrower.
Read everything the college sends you carefully and respond to requests promptly. If you have questions or don’t understand something, call the financial aid office and ASK! They’ll be more than happy to provide a helping hand! Finally, remember, you’ll have to re-apply every year.