By Chelsea Walters
Senior Financial Aid Advisor, APUS
If you are preparing to start or go back to college, you are likely reviewing college expenses and ways to cover them. Many students choose to use Federal Student Aid (FSA) for assistance.
Start a degree program at American Public University.
In order to apply for FSA, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA seems overwhelming at first, but taking your time to understand the application process can allow you to feel more at ease.
A Quick Explanation of the FAFSA
The FAFSA is the only application required to determine eligibility for FSA funds, such as Pell Grants, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and federal work-study programs. Some states and colleges may also use your FAFSA to determine your eligibility for individual state and school aid. The application can be completed online or you can use the myStudentAid app.
The FAFSA Is Free
You may find yourself becoming overwhelmed when you start the application process, and preparers may take advantage of this feeling to charge you for their assistance. Instead, feel confident in yourself, and explore the free, easy options you can utilize for assistance. Your school’s financial aid office is one great resource you should always feel comfortable using for any questions or concerns you have.
Remember, the FAFSA is a free application. If a website asks you for money, you are not dealing with the official FAFSA website.
What You Need to Complete the FAFSA
The FAFSA will determine your Expected Family Contribution and eligibility for FSA, based on the information you enter on your application. This information will include taxed income, untaxed income and benefits. Have your information and documents readily available when you enter information on the FAFSA to make the application process smoother.
The FAFSA requires tax information from two years prior to the award year. For example, the 2020-2021 FAFSA will request your 2018 taxes. Having your tax documents on hand makes it easier to enter your tax information, and you can simplify the process even more by using the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool, if you’re given the option. This tool will directly import your tax information from the IRS.
If you are a dependent student, you will also need your parent information, even if you are not living in their household. If you have a special circumstance preventing you from entering your parent’s information, contact your university’s financial aid office for assistance.
What Happens after You Finish Filling Out the Form
After you complete the FAFSA, you and any colleges you included on your FAFSA receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that provides you with basic information on your eligibility. The SAR includes an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), and colleges use this figure to help determine your eligibility for need-based aid, like the Pell Grant and subsidized loans.
If your SAR does not list an EFC, your application is not complete and your SAR will indicate what action may be needed. Your SAR also shows if you are selected for verification. If this is the case, your school may request additional documentation to support the information you reported.
Each school has its own financial aid packaging process, so make sure you follow up with your university’s financial aid office after completing your FAFSA to determine what other steps or information may be needed. The FAFSA is only an application used to determine your FSA eligibility; it is not a financial aid package.
Use your school’s financial aid office as a resource. They can make the process less overwhelming, and maintaining close contact with financial aid advisors can help the financial aid packaging process run as smoothly as possible.