The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the primary form used by colleges to determine eligibility for need-based aid. In some cases, colleges will not consider an applicant for merit aid unless that student has first submitted a FAFSA. The FAFSA should be filed as soon as possible after October 1st of the student’s senior year, and then yearly while attending college.
The FAFSA collects basic information about both the student’s and his/her parents’ incomes and assets and uses this information to determine an expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount that the student and family is expected to contribute towards that individual’s college expenses during the next academic year. The difference between the EFC and the total cost of attendance at your college of choice is known as demonstrated need. Colleges use this information to prepare a customized financial aid package for each admitted student who qualifies for financial aid.
The financial aid package may include both grants and loans, as well as self-help such as work-study opportunities. Only a few colleges guarantee to meet 100% of established need, so financial aid may not cover all of your expenses at a particular college.
Complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. You’ll need your 2019 tax returns and other financial records noted on the site. Families who have filed their 2019 returns can also use the retrieval tool on the site to prepopulate a lot of the tax information.
You’ll also want to apply for a Federal Student Aid ID (FSAID) for both the student and a parent so you can both sign your form electronically. Many families have experienced a significant loss of income/assets in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Although this information is not included in the FAFSA calculation for members of the class of 2021, college financial aid officers are very aware of this issue for many families. Parents can contact the financial aid office at each college to explain their individual circumstances and should be prepared to send appropriate documentation. This information will be factored into the final financial aid package.