If your child is already in college, chances are you are already familiar with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). However, if you have a rising senior like I do, this seems like a daunting task. The annual form rolls out on October 1st each year for the next academic year (2021-2022). It is necessary to complete the FAFSA to be considered for financial aid from the federal government, state government, and most colleges and universities. Financial aid may come in many forms including grants, scholarships, work study opportunities, and student loans. Even if you don’t think your family will qualify for need-based financial aid, a FAFSA is required by schools to be considered for merit scholarships.
Start by going to the FAFSA website (fsaid.ed.gov) and getting both a parent ID and a student ID. The earlier you complete the FAFSA, the more likely you are to get the aid for which you are qualified, as it does run out. Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import the data from your tax return to eliminate errors and likelihood of your application being selected for verification. The estimated time to complete the form is 30-60 minutes, so don’t make it out to be more than it is.
Upon completion, some applications are selected for verification, which means that you might need to provide backup documents such as W-2s, 1099s, etc. Within a few weeks, your family will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which will include the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) amount. The financial aid formula relies heavily on income and cash flow. All financial aid funds are distributed through the college’s office of financial aid.
Finally, this hasn’t exactly been a normal year. Since the FAFSA is based on the 2019 income tax return and your income might be drastically different than it was in 2019, you can appeal a decision. It is best to contact each college individually with a letter to explain the family’s special circumstances that affect their ability to pay for college. It might take the college or university several weeks to respond, but don’t hesitate to follow up.