All students need to know this important information
Are you thinking about getting an education? Everyone who is considering career school, community college, university, or other post-secondary education should begin with the same step: Completing their FAFSA.
What is the FAFSA? FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—in other words, it’s the application you need to request financial aid for your post-secondary education.
At the Salter School in Massachusetts, our Financial Aid advisors are here to help students understand what they need to do to fill out the FAFSA. If you are looking at colleges or career training schools in Massachusetts or your own region, use our Q & A guide to get a handle on FAFSA. First, a few things about FAFSA:
- https://fafsa.ed.gov/ is the website to use
- It is free! Don’t fall for any websites that try to charge you money
- It can be done completely online (but also on paper, if you don’t have internet access)
- Be prepared to spend a couple hours completing it--it’s worth the time!
Q: Am I eligible for FAFSA?
A: You will need to meet certain requirements in order to apply for aid. The Federal Student Aid website has a page on Basic Eligibility Criteria. Be sure to read this page before getting started.
Q: When should I fill out the FAFSA?
A: You should complete the FAFSA when you are in the process of searching for and applying to post-secondary schools. The application will ask you for a list of schools you have applied to as well as a list of schools that you are considering applying to. You want the list to include every possible school you might attend.
Also, remember that the FAFSA needs to be completed every year. If, for instance, you are a student at a 4-year college, you will need to complete the FAFSA a total of 4 times. Important tip: file your FAFSA as early in the calendar year as you can, since some states or schools may run out of financial aid later in the year.
Q: What do I need to do before filling out the form?
- Decide which schools you’re interested in
Before starting the FAFSA process, be sure to gather a list of schools that you have applied to or are interested in applying to. The Federal Student Aid program will need to send your information to your future school, so it’s important to include all potential schools you are considering.
- Make sure your income taxes have been filed
You will need access to last year’s income tax records, so make sure you have filed on time, and if you haven’t, be sure to submit your returns as soon as possible. If you are a dependent, make sure your parents have filed their tax returns. You will need to import both your own and your parents’ tax information into your FAFSA.
Q: How do I fill out the FAFSA?
A: Filling out the FAFSA can take an hour or more, so be ready to commit some time to it. One thing that really helps is to gather the necessary information before you sit down at the computer. Here is a quick summary of the 8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA, as recommended by Homeroom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education.
Step 1. Create an account (your FSA ID)
Before you can do anything on the FAFSA website, you will need to create an account. Go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/fsaid to create your FSA ID. Your FSA ID is the user name and password that you will need to log into the FAFSA website and begin your application.
Note: If you are a dependent, your parent or parents will need to create a separate FSA ID. Be careful not to get the parent and child’s FSA IDs mixed up! This can cause delays in getting aid.
Step 2: Gather the documents you will need
Before getting started on filling out the application, it’s helpful if you gather all the important information you will need. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s blog post 7 Things You Need Before You Fill Out the FAFSA Form, you will need:
- FSA ID (described above)
- Social security number (or alien registration number)
- Driver’s license number (if you have one)
- Your tax records from earlier tax year (the 2016 tax year, if completing the 2018-2019 FAFSA form)
- Records of untaxed income, if any (such as child support received, interest income, veterans’ non-educational benefits)
- Record of your assets (savings and checking balances, value of investments)
- List of schools you are considering attending (up to 10 schools)
Step 3: Fill out the student demographics section
This section is straightforward, but remember, this is the STUDENT demographics they want. If you are a parent helping your child, remember it’s the student information, not the parent information.
Step 4: Indicate your list of schools
This is the section where you list what schools you are considering. It doesn’t matter if you have applied yet or not. You can list up to 10 schools. Here are instructions if you are applying to more than 10 schools.
Step 5: Answer the dependency status questions
For FAFSA, the issue of whether you are a dependent or not is different from the IRS (income tax) rules. So, it’s important to go through the list of questions carefully, so that you know whether to submit as a dependent student (and include your parent information) or an independent student (and skip the parent information section).
Step 6: Coordinate with your parents (for dependents only)
The next section is the parent demographic section (you can skip this if you are an independent student). For special circumstances and questions about who qualifies as the parent, read this Q and A about Who Is My Parent on the FAFSA Form? Be sure that you understand clearly which sections you need to complete and which sections your parents need to complete. The video ASK Federal Student Aid will help parents understand what they need to do. If there’s any doubt, just look at the banner on the left side of your screen. You will see a STUDENT or PARENT banner, so you know which person is supposed to be answering which question.
Step 7: Provide financial information
This is the step where you provide your tax information and your parents’ tax information (if a dependent). FAFSA has an IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that allows you to import your tax information very simply, with just a few clicks. This saves a lot of time!
Step 8: Sign and submit your form
After you’ve double-checked all of your information, and made sure you’re not making any of the common FAFSA mistakes, it’s time to sign and submit. Both dependent students and their parents must sign. And don’t get mixed up--be sure you are signing the same form that matches up with your own FSA ID.
Q: What happens after I file the FAFSA?
- Wait for the Student Aid Report
After you file the FAFSA, you will need to wait for about 3 weeks to receive your Student Aid Report. This is not the amount of aid you will receive. It’s just a copy of the report that your schools will see. Be sure to double-check that your information shows up correctly on this report. If anything is incorrect, follow these instructions to make corrections to your FAFSA data.
- Wait to hear from schools where you’ve been accepted
The schools that you listed will also receive your Student Aid Report. This is the information the schools will use to determine if they will offer you an aid package. For those schools where you’ve applied and been accepted, their financial aid offices will send you an aid offer (award letter), letting you know how much, if any, financial aid they can offer. This information can help you decide which school you want to enroll in. If you do not hear from a school within a few weeks of receiving your Student Aid Report, you can contact them.
- Evaluate financial aid packages carefully
In most cases, financial aid packages are not “free money.” While grants do not need to be repaid, loans do! It is wise to find out what your monthly loan payments will be after graduation. A rule of thumb is: Your monthly loan payments after graduation should not exceed 10 percent of your expected pretax monthly income. Learn more about types of student aid here.
We hope this guide has been helpful in understanding the FAFSA process. It’s well worth your time and effort to complete this important application!
The Salter School, a career training school in Massachusetts, offers one-year career-focused training programs for those interested in becoming a professional medical assistant, health claims specialist (medical billing and coding specialist), or massage therapist. We’re located near Boston, Mass, with campuses in Fall River and Malden. Are you nearby? If so, find out more by taking a tour or filling out our simple online form. Or grab your mobile and call us at 800-299-1074. We hope your future begins with us!