Aug 9 · 5 min read
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If you’re like most people seeking a college degree, you’ll need financial aid. While there are opportunities to receive grants and scholarships, most students will need loans to cover the rising cost of tuition and fees. To be exact, an alarming 7 out of 10 students graduate with student loan debt. While student loan debt should be avoided if possible, it’s often necessary to attend college. If you’re a student or parent trying to figure out how to cover the large expenses of college, you’ll most likely need student loans so let’s talk about how to get them.
Each year you plan to be enrolled in college, you'll need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA. Submitting this free application allows you to be considered for student loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. Your FAFSA can be submitted online and will usually take less than an hour to complete.
Before you get started on your FAFSA, you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of a few important dates. The open date for next year’s FAFSA will be October 1. Once this date arrives, you’ll be able to complete and submit your FAFSA. Attempt to complete your FAFSA as early as you can! Since the government gives out money based on what is available, those who file the earliest will have the best chance of getting more financial aid.
You’ll also want to research the FAFSA deadlines for your state and colleges. Different states and colleges have different deadlines so you’ll want to make sure you know which deadlines will apply to you.
If you happen to miss your college’s deadline, your last chance to submit your application will be by the federal deadline. All FAFSA’s will need to be submitted to the federal government by June 30 after the school year you’re receiving aid for. For instance, if you’re submitting your FAFSA for the 2019-20 school year, the open date will be October 1, 2018, and the federal deadline will be June 30, 2020. Submitting by the federal deadline will allow you to access grants and loans that retroactively cover semesters you’ve already paid for.
Now that you know your deadlines, let’s look at the things you’ll need to complete your FAFSA.
The first thing you’ll need is a Federal Student Aid ID. You can create one directly on the Federal Student Aid website. Your FSA ID will give you access to your FAFSA form and allow you to sign it online once it’s complete. Your FSA ID will also allow you to access information about your financial aid over the next few years, so you’ll want to remember it! If you’re a dependent student, your FAFSA will also require a signature from either a parent or legal guardian, so they will need to create an FSA ID as well.
The next thing you’ll need is your social security number. You’ll be able to find this number on your Social Security card.
You’ll also need your driver’s license if you have one.
One of the main factors of financial aid is income. So you’ll also need to gather W-2 and federal income tax return forms for yourself and your legal guardians.
Your FAFSA will require you to report income from two years before the school year of the application you are submitting. For instance, if you’re submitting your FAFSA for the 2019-20 school year, you will be required to provide W-2 and federal income tax return forms from the 2017 tax year.
Fortunately, when completing your FASFA online, you will have the option to import your tax information directly into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. While this tool won’t import all the financial information required on the FASFA form, it’s the fastest and most accurate way of inputting your tax return information. If you’re unable to use the tool, you’ll have to manually input your information.
Also, if you or your parents have untaxed income like child support or interest income, you’ll need to report this as well.
The FAFSA will also require you to report the net worth of you and your parent's assets. This includes money in form of cash, savings, checking accounts, businesses, investment farms, and other investments such as real estate. Assets won’t include the value of the home you live in, life insurance policies, or retirement plans.
The last thing you’ll need is a list of the colleges you want to apply to. When completing your FAFSA online, you’ll be asked to enter FAFSA school codes for up to 10 schools you wish to attend. If you submit a paper FAFSA instead, you’ll be limited to four schools. Each college will have its own unique school code that will be searchable on the Federal Student Aid website. The schools you list on your FAFSA will automatically receive your financial aid information.
While it won’t matter for federal student aid purposes, the order in which you list your school codes might determine if you receive state aid. Depending on what state you live in, you may be required to list certain school codes first in order to be eligible for state financial aid. (Use this page to find out https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/school-list)
After you’ve gathered the necessary information and have used it fill out your FAFSA, it’s time to submit and wait on your results. If you submitted online, your application will be processed within 3-5 business days. If you submitted by mail, it will be processed within 7-10 business days. Once your application is processed, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report or (SAR). This report will summarize the information from your FAFSA and include your Expected Family Contribution also known as (EFC).
While the name can be misleading, your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength, not a value of how much you will pay out of pocket to attend college. Calculated according to a formula established by the federal government, your EFC will be sent to the colleges you listed in your FAFSA to help determine what financial aid you will be awarded.
Once your financial aid is determined and you’ve received your college acceptance letters, you’ll also receive a financial aid award package. This lists the types and amounts of financial aid available to you. This will include grants, work studies, and student loans. If you don’t receive a financial aid award package, contact the college you plan to attend to see if there are any additional requirements for receiving financial aid.