Earning a college education is one of the best investments in your future. Today, college students and their families face a “perfect storm,” meaning that college tuition is climbing, the economy continues to weaken and credit is tightening.
Figuring out how to pay for a college education is more challenging than ever before. But one thing hasn’t changed, filling out the government’s aid form is still complicated and time consuming.
As recently as Dec. 2, 2008, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told those at the Federal Student Aid Conference that the FAFSA is “still a real pain in the assets. Sadly, many students, up to 8 million in fact, don’t even apply for aid, in part because of all the red tape. We believe most would have been eligible for assistance,” she said.
More than $236 billion in financial aid is available to help pay for college. Filing your federal financial aid application, known as the FAFSA, is the first step in applying for more than 90% of this money.
All college students are expected to contribute towards their education costs. How much you depends on their financial situation and is what’s called a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form the U.S. Department of Education (ED) requires to determine the EFC. The government conducts a “need analysis” based on financial information, such as income, assets and other information which dependent students and their parents will be asked to provide.
Applications are examined by a federal processor and the results sent by computer to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’ve chosen. Federal aid is limited and much of it is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you file the better your chances of accessing the most financial aid possible.
Many states, colleges, and universities have filing deadlines as early as the first weeks in January.
The FAFSA is the application most colleges use to determine eligibility for federal, state and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans and work-study programs. Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid, including low-interest Federal Stafford and/or parent PLUS loans, regardless of income or circumstances, provided that a student:
• is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
• has a valid Social Security Number;
• has a high school diploma or GED;
• is registered with the U.S. Selective Service (if a male age 18 to 25);
• completes a FAFSA promising to use any federal aid for educational purposes;
• does not owe refunds on any federal student grants;
• is not in default on any student loans; and
• has not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs during a period when you received federal student aid.
FAFSA is step 1. To be considered for federal financial aid, you must submit a completed FAFSA on time. Additionally, most states, colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award other types of aid, including state-and-college-sponsored financial aid such as grants, loans, and work-study programs.
Besides the FAFSA, some states and colleges require that you file other applications for aid. Students should check with their college’s financial aid administrator for any state or college-specific requirements. Students may file their FAFSA with the Department of Education beginning in January.
They may also complete their FAFSA earlier, in the fall, using Student Financial Aid Services’ FAFSAFirst™ service, which will then submit it to the federal processor in early January.