If you’re looking for money for college, then you need to start with FAFSA.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The federal government uses the application to see if you qualify for federal assistance for college. Federal student aid can include grants, scholarship, work-study jobs, and loans. Most colleges and universities use FAFSA as the application to their own financial aid programs. Private colleges often have additional financial aid forms – like the CSS Profile – when determining financial aid packages.

What is FAFSA’s role in the financial aid process?

Since 2016, students can file the FAFSA as early as October 1st. The deadline for the 2018-2019 year is June 30th, but it’s advisable to file far earlier than that to increase your chances of receiving federal aid. Also, the earlier you file, the sooner the government determines your aid, and the sooner you can plan for the future.

From your FAFSA, the federal government calculates your EFC. Your EFC is your Expected Family Contribution and what the government believes you and your family should be able to pay towards your tuition. The school of your choice will then try to provide further financial aid based on your EFC.

Warning: EFC’s are often much higher than families can afford as the federal government does not consider consumer debt in their calculations.

How can I apply?

If you are a dependent, you and your parents should gather some important information needed to file your FAFSA:

  • Social Security Number
  • Current bank and brokerage statements
  • Driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Current mortgage and investment records (if applicable)
  • Alien registration card (for non-US citizens)
  • Current federal tax return (use estimates if parents have not filed yet)
  • Current untaxed income records (if applicable)
  • Current W2 and 1099 forms plus other records of income
  • Parents’ current income tax return (if you’re a dependent)

Now head to www.fafsa.ed.gov to create a profile. From there you can download the FAFSA forms or complete them on the web, electronically sign your application, check your FAFSA’s status, correct errors, add more colleges and universities to your application, and renew your application for coming school years. Print the FAFSA summary and confirmation page once you submit it.

Once you file your FAFSA, you should receive your SAR electronically in 1-3 days – or 2-3 weeks if you made a paper filing. Your SAR is your Student Aid Report. It’s a summation of the information you entered in your FAFSA and indicates your potential federal student aid and EFC. Your SAR also tells you if you are eligible for a Federal Pell Grant – even more free money! If you find any errors in your SAR, do not panic! Make corrections online using your FSA ID (created when filling out FAFSA) and report the errors to your financial aid office. If you never receive an SAR, call 1-800-433-3243 (1-800-4-FED-AID) or visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.

Next Steps

Your prospective colleges will send you an award letter once they review your SAR and confirm your eligibility for student aid. You do not have to accept all the aid they offer – some of which may come in the form of loans – but declining one form aid will not increase your other forms of aid. This is where we come in.

Use Scholly to help you fill in any gaps between the aid you are offered and what your family can actually afford. If you want to avoid student debt, then scholarships are your best bet. There are countless scholarship programs wanting to help you go to school – and we’ve already found them for you on Scholly.