Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA is where the whole process of getting federal student aid begins, whether it's a grant, a loan or work-study aid. Each October a new FAFSA is available for the next school year. Therefore, that is when you start the FAFSA application process. FAFSA is available free on fafsa.gov in English and Spanish. Therefore, if any financial aid agency out there is charging you money for the FAFSA application, you know immediately they're suspicious. Let's dive in.
Federal Student Aid Eligibility
These criteria apply across the board whether it's federal grant eligibility, federal loan eligibility, or federal work study eligibility that we're talking about.
- You must be a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen possessing a valid Social Security number, with a few exceptions.
- You must be enrolled for a 4-year or a 2-year full-time or part-time eligible academic program.
- You must demonstrate "satisfactory academic performance" and your school will be able to tell you the standards.
- You must sign a statement in the FAFSA application to confirm that you’re not defaulting or not in default of a federal student loan and, furthermore, are not owing any money on a federal student grant. You will only use the federal student aid for education.
- Most male students must be registered with Selective Service between the ages of 18 to 25. The Selective Service program is basically a database of young men who may be called by the government in the event of a national emergency.
- Serious criminal convictions can seriously impede your eligibility.
FAFSA application online
It takes under 30 mins on average to complete a FAFSA application online. If you fill the FAFSA application online, you can check status updates immediately. Things to keep in mind:
- You create your login and password called FSA ID. This becomes your digital signature for FAFSA going forward.
- Keep your social security number, your permanent resident card if applicable, any W2 forms, records of money you earned and tax records for the previous years.
- By the way, you can automatically import your tax data from the IRS to your FAFSA application.
- You can list up to 10 schools of your choice in your FAFSA application. Make full use of this list even if you haven't applied or haven't been accepted yet.
Student Aid Report (SAR)
Within a few days of filling out the FAFSA, you will get your Student Aid Report (SAR). Basically, it summarizes all the information you submitted on the FAFSA. You can access your SAR online on fafsa.gov using your FSA ID. You must check your SAR for any mistakes and correct them, if any, particularly in your tax information.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
On your SAR, you'll see a reference to your Expected family Contribution (EFC). This number is used to determine your federal student aid eligibility. But it does not mean that you have to contribute that amount.
Financial Aid Eligibility
The information you submit gets directed to the US Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid for processing. The colleges you select will be notified so that they can begin their process of awarding aid. They will use the information on your FAFSA application to assess how much federal aid or loan you're eligible to receive. You may need to verify the information you submitted if the school authorities ask. They will guide you on what they need.
The Financial Aid Award Letter
Once you are accepted into the school, you'll receive an award letter from the school's financial aid office providing you with all the details of the aid being offered to you. This letter explains all the federal and also non-federal aid options that this school is offering you. If there's anything in your financial aid award letter for which you need further explanation, you should contact the financial aid office of the particular school.
Review Your Awards and Choose a College
At this stage, you should compare the award letters you have received from all the different schools and choose the college that's best for your situation. The choice of college needn't just be based on the amount of financial aid you receive. Since your future depends on your education, check the reputation and ranking of the school, the programs you wish to enroll for, etc.
The Federal Loan
If your aid offer includes a grant, then you do not need to repay it. But a federal student loan is money borrowed from the government and you must promise to repay it. So, make sure you borrow only what you need and keep this option as your last resort. If it is your first time getting a federal loan, there are a few more things you need to go through to complete the process. You need to complete what is called "entrance counseling". This is to ensure that you understand the responsibilities and obligations you are assuming. After that, you will need to sign the master promissory note (MPN) which is a legal document saying you will pay back the loan.
FAFSA is NOT a one-time process that you complete at the beginning of your program and forget about. Your FAFSA application needs to be renewed each year that you are in school. Since this is financial-need-based student aid, the federal authorities will review any changes in your financial situation each year. While October is when FAFSA becomes available for the next academic year, each college or trade school has its own FAFSA deadline. Besides, student aid funds in colleges are limited and dry up as quickly as they become available. So, it is in your best interest to complete the process early so that you do not miss the FAFSA application deadline in your list of colleges.
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