The following article was submitted by Margene Walz of Quest College Counseling.
It’s that frantic time of year when parents are searching for money needed to fund their student’s college education.
Relax, take a deep breath! Thousands of parents have gone through the process and survived. Although complicated, if you gather needed information before starting, read and follow instructions on the application, you will succeed without much stress.
The starting point for all financial aid is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known popularly by its acronym FAFSA. The federal government uses the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal assistance in the form of scholarships, grants and loans. You may complete a FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Parents and students are expected to contribute to the student’s college education. Using the information you supply on the FAFSA, the federal processor determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Once you complete the FAFSA and your EFC is determined, it is automatically sent to the colleges you have selected.
Most schools base their financial aid package on the FAFSA. Once a student’s FAFSA is received, the colleges try to satisfy the financial need of the student. They subtract the EFC from the particular institution’s Cost of Attendance (COA), which includes tuition, fees, room and board, and so forth.
Financial need packages consist of federal, state, institutional and private sources as well as loans and student employment.
Whatever your financial status, everyone is entitled to and should complete a FAFSA. When answering the question asking about your interest in different types of aid (e.g. work-study and student loans) answer yes to each question. Answering yes does not obligate you to accept but it does increase your options. Answering no will not get you more grant aid.
Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Jan. 1. Many schools have limited funds so the earlier you apply the better your chances for receiving aid. Always be aware of your chosen college’s financial aid deadlines!
Not submitting the FAFSA or completing the college application in a timely manner is one of the major reasons students lose funding.
When filling out the FAFSA there are several things you need to know. The you and your always refers to the student not the parents. Use only your legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. Nicknames or aliases will delay the process. Remember to count yourself, the student, as part of the household number.
To avoid delaying your application, do not make these common mistakes when filling out the FAFSA:
- Both parents and students must use the 1040 federal tax form not the W-2.
- Don’t forget to report all untaxed income such as Social Security, child support, Aid to Dependent Children and all outside scholarships and grants.
- Be sure to include stepparent information.
- Remember to sign the application. While applying online you will be asked to select a PIN to use in place of a signature. To get a pin, visit www.pin.ed.gov.
- Remember to file on time. The California deadline is March 2.
Each state has its own grants. In California this grant is known as a Cal Grant. According to www.CalGrants.org, students can receive up to $12,192. To receive a Cal Grant you must complete and submit two forms yearly by March 2: the FAFSA and the Cal Grant Verification Form. Your school completes the Verification form but you should confirm this form has been sent.