Yep. It's October. And, for anyone with children in college that means filling out the FAFSA every year. Whether you, the parent, or the student does it, the closer to the beginning of October you do it, the better.
If you haven't filled out the FAFSA in the past, read my article 9 Secrets to Effortlessly Finish the FAFSA.
Since you have a student already in college, and have filled the FAFSA out at least once, you are probably wondering why you have to fill it out again? And, did you know, you have to fill it out every year they are in school? At least as long as you are looking for money. Filling out the FAFSA is how schools evaluate how much money to give to you. Whether you're eligible for grant money (which doesn't have to be paid back) or eligible for loans, or even work study programs, you'll want to fill out this document to give schools a picture of your need. Of course, your child will still be eligible for private scholarships from the school in addition to any aid listed on the FAFSA.
You can get up to date information on need-based scholarships and the ever changing FAFSA in my free resource, "Need Based Scholarships - A White Paper". It's filled with tips for busy parents who dread filling out government forms.
So, if you done this before, you know what to expect. But, to keep things exciting, the government does change these forms from time to time. Here is a run down of what to expect if you're coming back and resubmitting your form for another year.
You'll fill out the form with these sections. I've tried to give you an idea about what will be needed in each, how long each section is, and tips that might help you navigate your way through filling out the form.
1. Student Demographics
This section is relatively easy and painless. It asks you all about the student. It really just asks you to verify information that has been submitted in the past. There is a place in this section that asks you to fill in the student's driver's license number. This is optional! You don't have to provide that in order to continue. The section is about seven or eight pages long.
2. School Selection
This is a pretty short section at only a couple of pages. As the title implies, it's all about where your student will be going to school. Whatever school(s) you list, is where your financial aid information will be sent. So, that means that if you are transferring schools, you may have to change this information from what was there in year's past. Just keep that in mind. This section also asks for housing plans; ie on campus, off campus, or with parents.
3. Dependency Status
A little longer section, this asks for all of the student and parent information. Will your student be claimed as a dependent? Do you have more than one child in college? Do you have other dependents that you pay for? Those types of questions. Most of these answers are auto filled, just be sure to verify that nothing has changed from years past.
4. Financial Information
This is the section that provides the dread of filling out the FAFSA. Nobody wants to try to figure out which number is actually being asked for! It can be confusing, but if you are comfortable with it, there is an easy way. There is an option that allows you to connect directly with the IRS and pull over the information that is needed. It guarantees that the numbers being asked for are submitted correctly, which is nice. But, I understand why people wouldn't want to use it, as well. If you choose to use this option, you will be taken away from the FAFSA site, have to fill in and verify personal information on the IRS site, and then it automatically takes you back to the FAFSA site. It sounds very confusing and hard to do, but the system is pretty flawless.
Since this section requires you to fill out financial information for the student and the parent, you have the option to do the auto IRS fill in both instances. And, they both work the same way.
5. Sign & Submit
You're almost done! At the end of the form, both the parent and the student will have to sign with an electronic signature. If your student isn't near you at the time you fill it out, you can save and have them sign in and provide their electronic signature at a later time.
It is nice that after you have clicked the submit button, there is a confirmation page that comes up with the option to transfer information to a sibling's profile. This could save you time if you have multiple children you are filling out the FAFSA for. See the image below.
All in all, it is a fairly simple process. No gnashing of teeth required. Let me know after you fill it out and tell me if you agree.
Should we put down all possible colleges/universities our son may attend since we are waiting for acceptance letters?
Yes. The FAFSA application form is only sent to each school you list. So you would want to list the colleges that you might attend, so that they can provide you need-based aid. You can list up to 10 schools when completing the FAFSA online.
The order you list colleges can matter.
It matters for state-based aid. Some states require that you list the state university first in order to be considered for State-based financial aid that's tied to the FAFSA.
It may matter for university-based aid. The schools you put on the FAFSA could use your information to determine how much financial aid your receive. It's possible that if you list a college first, they will give you more scholarships, believing they are your first choice.
The order you list college does NOT affect federal aid. Your eligibility for federal financial aid that comes directly from the federal government as a result of the FAFSA, is not affected by the oder you list the schools.
The FAFSA website provides state-by-stage guidance here.