It’s that time again! Time to apply for financial aid. The 2018-19 FAFSA window opens up on October 1, 2017, and “the early bird gets the worm.” We will tell you everything you need to know so you can gather all the necessary information you need and apply as soon as possible.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is an abbreviation for The Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s used by the U.S. Department of Education, states, and colleges to determine who is awarded financial aid.
If you are a graduating high school senior that plans on attending college in the fall or a current college student, you most likely will need to apply for the FAFSA. Here are a few reasons why:
- Federal student loans
- Federal Pell Grants
- State grants
- College grants and scholarships
- Needs-based financial aid from private organizations
Unless you only plan on using private student loans, cash, 529 college funds, or have a merit scholarship, you will need to submit the FAFSA if you want to receive needs-based financial aid.
It’s free to submit your FAFSA application. If you are ever prompted to pay a fee, exit the website immediately because it’s a scam.
What School Year Does the 2018-19 FAFSA Apply?
The 2018-19 FAFSA is applicable if you plan on applying for financial aid if you will be attending college between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.
If you will be attending college for the Spring 2018 semester or even taking some summer classes that begin before June 30, 2017, you will need to apply for the 2017-18 FAFSA.
You only have to apply for each FAFSA once each academic year. So, you don’t have to apply once in the Fall and again in the Spring.
What Information Do You Need?
You will the need the below information for you (the student). If you are still a dependent parent where your parents can still claim you on their tax return since they provide for at least 50% of your living expenses, you will also need the below information for each parent too.
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
- Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (Note: You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
- Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
You will need your Tax Year 2016 (January 1, 2016-December 31, 2016) tax returns to determine your household income. FAFSA uses the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that can instantly import your tax information into the 2018-19 FAFSA application in a matter seconds. This helps you file your FAFSA even quicker and makes it possible to complete the FAFSA in 30 minutes.
If you need to enter all your tax return information by hand, that’s okay too. It’ll take a few extra minutes but you can still complete your process quickly if you have all the information mentioned above.
You will also need to list your balances for your bank statements and investment records. The FAFSA bases your financial aid package on your entire financial picture.
Where to Apply for the 2018-19 FAFSA
To begin the FAFSA application process, the only legitimate site is the official FAFSA website.
Once you are on the website, click the green “Start a New FAFSA” button.
Enter Your Login Information
The next step is to enter your login information. If you have applied for a FAFSA before, you will begin by entering your FSA ID and password. If this is your first time, you will create a login id by clicking the “Enter the student’s information” radio button.
Once you are logged in, you can begin processing through the various data input screens to complete the process. Remember, it can be done within 30 minutes so you can do it before you leave home for the day, right before dinner, or before you go to bed. It’s really that simple.
Send Your FAFSA Data Directly To Your School
Just like you can send your ACT and SAT exam scores directly to your college of choice, the FAFSA also lets you send your FAFSA package to several schools of choice. This expedites the process in helping your school send a personalized financial aid package that will tell you if you qualify for any financial aid and also which federal student loans you qualify for.
You can send your data to 10 colleges. You might be waiting to make your final decision based on who will give you the largest aid package. Put all the colleges you have applied to on the FAFSA form and wait to receive an aid package from each financial aid office.
Pay Attention to State Aid Deadlines
Many states offer aid packages in addition to what you might receive from the federal, collegiate, and organizational levels. You need to pay attention the application deadlines to ensure your application is considered.
For example, North Carolina and Vermont will award aid until the funds are depleted. Since funds are limited, there might not be any aid left over if you want until January to file your FAFSA application.
Other states will offer a guaranteed amount of aid, (i.e. Tennessee Promise Scholarship) if you apply by the deadline. For example, you might have until January 16, to submit your FAFSA and qualify for state aid, even if you don’t know where you will be attending classes in the fall.
What To Do After You Submit Your FAFSA
After submitting your FAFSA, you need to wait to hear from each university financial aid package.
You may need to prepare to submit additional documentation, make corrections to your original application, or to appeal your FAFSA results with the individual university if you think you deserve more.
Once you receive your aid package, look it over. It will tell you if you qualify for grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study opportunities. It’s your choice to accept or decline each piece of your financial aid package. You should accept grants, scholarships, and work-study jobs because you do not have to pay those back. Federal student loans need to be repaid with interest after graduation.
Keep in mind that the 2019-20 FAFSA application will open on October 1, 2018. Being proactive and keeping your financial records in order will make it much easier (and quicker) to apply for next year’s FAFSA now that you have experienced filing the 2018-19 FAFSA.
The FAFSA is free to submit and only takes a few minutes. It’s one of the most important documents you complete each academic year as a college student. Apply as early as possible to ensure you qualify for as much financial aid possible.