Winter Is Coming, And That Means It Is FAFSA Season
Kat Pastor, the American School Counselor’s Association 2016 National School Counselor of the Year, is a guest contributor for Reach Higher.
As the season changes from fall to winter, just as pumpkin spice has found a place in almost every food item we eat nowadays, completing the FAFSA is now more important than ever. Every fall, for the past 14 years, my department and I meet with frantic seniors about their post-secondary plans. Each of them have a dream or a goal about what they want to do after high school. Financing post-secondary options can be an uncomfortable subject; money talks, but rarely does it when it comes to the costs of college.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is probably one of the most misunderstood portions of the post-secondary journey for many students across the United States. More myths exist about the FAFSA, than common knowledge. Just like trying to figure out how to correctly pronounce FAFSA, (make sure to pronounce the second “F” in the acronym!), students and parents alike are trying to figure out if they “really” need to complete it. Each year in my classroom lessons, before the lesson even begins, students have misconceptions about the FAFSA. I often hear students say, “I won’t qualify, because my parents make too much money;” FALSE, “I don’t want to take out loans, so I am not going to complete the FAFSA;” FALSE, “I haven’t even completed all my applications, so I can’t complete the FAFSA;” FALSE, “I don’t think I am going to attend college right after high school, so I don’t need to complete the FAFSA;” the best-laid plans sometimes change.
This is a foreign process for all students; none of them have ever applied to college, let alone completed the FAFSA to determine their financial aid eligibility. I always tell my students to begin with the end in mind. The end being the end of high school—yes, because there is life after high school after all!
Let’s discuss a few key dates, terms, and resources:
October 1st: Each year the FAFA becomes available to complete for the upcoming year. Each year you are in college, you will need to complete a FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov. Be sure to know your deadlines!
Net Price Calculator: A free online tool from the Department of Education, that will help to determine what the actual costs will be at a particular institution. This would be tuition and fees minus any scholarships, grants, and/or educational tax benefits. Questions will be asked of GPA, ACT/SAT scores, family finances, and even activities that you may participate in, which all help in determining what types of aid you are eligible for, and then it gives a net price for cost. By the way, all colleges are required to have one on their institutions website. Tip: fill the form out completely and correctly, to ensure the most correct estimate of financial aid.
FSA ID: Both student and one parent/guardian need to create one. Your FSA ID will be how you log into the federal financial aid sites and sign the FAFSA. You only need to create one FSA ID and use it each year you complete the FAFSA. Make sure you know your social security number and have a working email address.
FAFSA website: Want to learn more about the FAFSA? Have questions about specific sections? Make sure to bookmark www.studentaid.ed.gov to get all your questions answered!
MyStudentAid: There’s now an app for that. New this year is the MyStudentAid App, where you can complete the FAFSA right on your phone. Can’t be easier than that!
IRS Data Retrieval Tool: You can use this to automatically transfer your tax information to the FAFSA form.
PPY: Prior-Prior Year for tax information on the FAFSA form. For the 2019-2020 FAFSA you will use your 2017 tax return documentation.
EFC: Estimated Family Contribution. This is a rough estimate for the amount of financial aid you could receive.
COA: Cost of Attendance. A student’s financial need is calculated as the difference between the cost of attending the school, the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus any expected financial assistance (EFA), such as gifts or outside scholarships, and the amount the student and their family is expected to pay, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
SAR: Student Aid Report. This report will contain what your EFC was determined from completing the FAFSA. Review your SAR carefully. Through your SAR, you can make corrections to the FAFSA and also add colleges (up to 10). The SAR will also tell you if you have been selected for verification. The verification process is done with each specific college and aid will not be disbursed until the verification process is complete.
When in doubt, always seek assistance from your student’s school counselor or the financial aid staff at your local community college or university. They are there to help you!
So, grab a pumpkin spice latte, give yourself 30 minutes and open the door to endless post-secondary possibilities!