Free Application for Federal Student Aid – The FAFSA

What Parents Need to Know

As a parent, one of the greatest concerns you have for your teenagers is that of their future. You want them to be able to realize their dreams, live up to their potential and be self-sufficient (YES!), socially adept and loving, happy adults. But what will the price tag be on your child’s future? And can you pay that bill? Should you be expected to pay the bill?

Even when the economy was in a healthier state than it is now, paying for college was something all parents worried about at least to some extent. So with the devastation of widespread unemployment and the rising cost of everything, the worries of paying for college are even greater. Hey – it’s expensive! The cost of a public college and university for a four-year education has risen over 100%! over the last twenty-five years. And the cost of a private institution has risen over 66% over the same period of time.

So what’s a parent to do? Dial, that’s what! The FAFSA is part of the U.S. department of Education. The FAFSA department within the Department of Education makes college education possible for nearly 15 million students each year to the tune of more than $150 billion in federal grants and loans. The federal grants given through FAFSA are free monies-meaning they do not need to be repaid…ever. Loans, however do have to be repaid once the student a) graduates from college or b) discontinues their education.

The FAFSA office is responsible for more than ‘just’ disbursing funds for your teen/young adult’s education, however. The FAFSA office

  • Notifies schools and individuals of the requirements, timeline and availability of funds
  • Processes all FAFSA applications
  • Maintains the database of all FAFSA participants
  • Manages and oversees all payments to colleges and universities on students’ behalf
  • Provides free assistance to students, parents and schools for managing their FAFSA applications and accounts.

Free money… someone else keeping track of things…sounds good so far, right? It is. But even ‘free’ comes with criteria. The criteria for obtaining funds through FAFSA are:

  • Be a US citizen and in possession of a social security number (parents and children)
  • Applicants must show via the FAFSA application process the need for financial aid
  • Male student applicants must be registered with the selective service
  • All student applicants must provide the FAFSA school code for the college/university they have been accepted to and have enrolled in
  • Students must maintain enrollment and academic standards to retain their eligibility

Done. You and your teenager meet all the requirements.  Now you want to know how much money your student can expect to receive towards their education. There is no one answer to that question. FAFSA uses a formula to determine who gets how much. The formula uses the cost of attendance (COA) and the expected family contribution (EFC) to determine how much money the government will either give or loan your teenager to go to college. FAFSA will also take into consideration any scholarships your student is receiving.

The COA is nothing more than the cost per year of attending college. This includes tuition, room/board and books.

The EFC is the amount of money FAFSA determines that you as a parent will be able to contribute to your child’s college education. FAFSA determines the EFC based upon the information you provide FAFSA on the application for free student aid. This information includes your income, the size of your family, income tax return, minority status and assets. Your student will also be required to provide much the same information about income and tax filing status. Once you and your student have completed and submitted the FAFSA application along with other documentation required, you will be notified of the amount received by both FAFSA and the college/university.

Is your head spinning? Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Again. That’s better. It’s really not as difficult as it may sound. Trust me, I had three in college at one time…that’s three FAFSA apps a year. And I’m still here to tell about it. You can do this!

There are likely still many questions running through your head about the FAFSA and how it works. The following brief snippets will hopefully answer most of these, but for a complete and thorough run-down of what you need to know and what you need to do, visit the FAFSA website. Your student’s guidance counselor will also be able to help you with the basics of FAFSA applications and the process as a whole.

Q How often do we have to submit a FAFSA?
A Once a year. However…once you are in the system, you can manage, change and update your application using the password and PIN you set up during the initial application process.

Q Do I have to share my financial information with FAFSA?
A If you want your student to be eligible for funding, yes. Only students who are over the age of 21 or who are under the age of 21 but are married and/or have a child do not need the information provided by parents on a FAFSA application.

Q Do military families get additional funding through other government programs when applying for FAFSA?
A Yes, as long as requirements are met. Information is available on the FAFSA website.

Q Is there any way we can know before going through the process of applying for FAFSA funding how much money we are eligible for?
A The FAFSA4Caster will walk you through a process to estimate funding. The FAFSA does take a bit of time and effort to initiate. But time and effort, in this case, translates into dollars and cents for your child’s future.

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