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College Admissions: 6 Reasons Seniors and Their Parents Should Fill Out the FAFSA Now

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

 

If you are a high school senior or the parent of a high school senior, you should work together to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Now. Here’s why:

1. It’s free. The FAFSA is a required document if you hope to get need-based aid from most colleges. You access it here. Be sure to use the .gov website and not the .com website, which charges you. 

2. Fill it out and submit it now because colleges run out of certain types of financial aid. It became available for the 2015–16 school year on January 1, 2015. By submitting it in January, you increase your odds of getting the best possible financial aid package.

3. You don’t need to have completed your 2014 tax return. You can fill out the FAFSA by indicating that you are using estimated tax data for 2014. Most people use their actual data from 2013 unless they had a huge shift in financial circumstances. Once you file your 2014 taxes, you can go back into the FAFSA and have it auto-update against your IRS filing.

4. You get your Student Aid Report (SAR), which contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), right away. Your EFC is the amount your family will be expected to contribute annually towards your college education if you attend a college that uses the federal formula for calculating aid. It doesn’t guarantee that the college will give you any set amount, but it does tell the college the amount the government calculates your family can afford. You may not like the number, but at least you will know what it is.

5. Some colleges will not consider a student for need-based aid in future years if the student did not fill out the FAFSA for freshman year. No one knows the future. Your family might not qualify for aid at this time, but life circumstances could change and you might qualify for aid in future years. Ensure eligibility by filling out a FAFSA now.

6. Some merit-based scholarships still ask for a FAFSA. I know this is illogical, since the FAFSA indicates financial need whereas merit scholarships are based on other criteria. Nonetheless, donors make all kinds of provisions when they fund scholarships, and many donors want to see FAFSA data, even if they just use it to understand the socio-economic breakout of their applicants. Keep your merit options open by filling out a FAFSA.

Now that you are convinced you should fill out the FAFSA, here’s what you should gather before you start, per the extremely helpful website finaid.org:

  • The student's driver's license and social security card.
  • The student's income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the previous year. If the student is married, you will also need the documents for the student's spouse.
  • The parents' income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the previous year.
  • Current bank statements and mortgage information.
  • Records relating to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments.
  • Documentation of non-taxable income, such as Social Security income, AFDC, and Veterans Benefits.
  • Business and farm records.
  • Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as medical and dental expenses not covered by health insurance, tuition expenses at elementary or secondary schools, unusually high child care costs, death, divorce, and loss of employment.

 

Make a photocopy of each document and keep it in a file folder with a photocopy of the completed financial aid applications. You will find this helpful not only because applications are sometimes lost, but in case your application is selected for verification.

If your application is selected for verification, you will be required to provide the financial aid office with copies of all of the documents listed above. All schools verify at least 1/3 of the students, and some do 100% verification.

Extra tips:

When you list the schools the FAFSA should be sent to, put them in alphabetical order. Some colleges look at the order of your list to predict whether or not the school was one of your top choices. Eliminate that possibility by putting them alphabetically.

In addition to the FAFSA, about 400 private colleges also want the CSS Profile or an additional financial aid form of their own to be filled out. Check the requirements of every college you applied to and be sure to complete whatever the school requires. Try to get it all done and submitted in January!

Jodi Walder-Biesanz is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC, which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at: [email protected].

 

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