Understanding of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

08 Jan 2020

FAFSA is the acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and this is a form that can be completed by both prospective and current students to obtain federal financial aid to help them pay for college or university. It is available on the resources governed by the US Department of Education. FAFSA originates from the Higher Education Act of 1965 which was signed into law with the intention to strengthen education and increase financial assistance for educational institutions in the forms of scholarships and various programs as well as loans for students and grants ranging from $100 to $7500.

What is an FSA ID?

FSA ID is more than just a username and password that allows one to log in to one of the websites run by the U.S. Department of Education. This FSA ID is equivalent to a person’s signature, that is why both a student and parents need to have their own unique personal combinations. That is why admission officers recommend creating FSA IDs as early as possible and definitely before the student gathers all required documentation to start filling in the FAFSA form. This will help to avoid any possible delays, complications, or issues with signing. Moreover, FSA ID will be needed on other stages of the application process, such as checking information online and signing loan contracts.

Documentation Needed for FAFSA

While filling in the form itself is rather an easy process, gathering all required paperwork might be considerably longer as it presupposes collecting financial records for the entire year. Apart from general information about a student, such as a name, address, date of birth, the following documents will be needed:

  • Applicant’s Social Security number.
  • Alien Registration number in case the applicant is not a U.S. citizen.
  • Parents’ Social Security numbers in case the applicant is a dependent student.
  • Driver’s license number in case it is available (not obligatory).
  • Tax records including Internal Revenue Service (IRS) W-2 tax form - for both the applicant and parents if he or she is a dependent student.
  • Information about untaxed income represented in a similar way as above.
  • Information about the applicant’s assets, cash, savings, and investments. Some assets, such as pension funds or life insurance, are usually not included, thus, the requirements regarding this package of documents should be carefully checked.
  • Filling in the 2020–21 FAFSA form also requires 2018 tax information.
  • List of all schools and colleges the applicant is interested in making sure the particular order is followed (in case if it is applicable).

FAFSA Submission Deadlines 2020-2021

Following deadlines is crucial for success in receiving student financial aid as collecting all required documents. The funds are limited so that early submission to achieve priority consideration is a good idea for many states and colleges. Thus, applicants must consider deadlines on both local state or even college level and federal one as they are different and apply as early as only possible.

Federal Deadline

According to the U.S. Department of Education's official resource, the federal deadline for submitting FAFSA online form is on June 30, 2021, by 11:59 p.m. CDT.

State Deadlines

For priority consideration, applicants must submit FAFSA form as soon as possible. The following states require contacting a financial aid office to clarify specific deadlines as there are no state deadlines mentioned: Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Federated States of Micronesia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, Wisconsin.

These states and territories have different deadlines that applicants should pay attention to while applying for a certain grant or a program, and the earliest deadlines for each state are the following:

Arkansas (June 1, 2020), California (March 2, 2020), Connecticut (February 15, 2020), Delaware (April 15, 2020), District of Columbia (May 1, 2020), Florida (May 15, 2020), Idaho (March 1, 2020), Indiana (April 15, 2020), Iowa (July 1, 2020), Kansas (April 1, 2020), Louisiana (July 1, 2020), Maine (May 1, 2020), Maryland (March 1, 2020), Massachusetts (May 1, 2020), Michigan (March 1, 2020), Mississippi (June 1, 2020), Missouri (April 1, 2020), Nevada (April 1, 2020), New Jersey (September 15, 2020, and February 15, 2021), Pennsylvania (May 1, 2020), Tennessee (February 1, 2020), West Virginia (March 1, 2020).

College Deadlines

Certainly, each institution may have its own specific deadline and in order to avoid confusion between the date of processing the FAFSA form or just receiving it, the applicant must contact the chosen college or university directly and ask for clarifications.

Who is Eligible for Student Aid?

Not everybody can receive the financial aid for studies, thus, applicants must conform to the basic requirements:

  1. Provided financial information must demonstrate real financial needs.
  2. The applicant must have U.S. citizenship or be an eligible non-U.S. citizen.
  3. Possession of a valid Social Security number as it is needed on all stages of application.
  4. General Educational Development (GED) certificate or a high school diploma is a must.
  5. The applicant must be a regular student and either be enrolled or accepted for enrollment to obtain a degree or certificate. Moreover, he or she must demonstrate at least a satisfactory level of academic achievement.
  6. Male applicants must register with Selective Service.
  7. Not being in default on a federal student loan and not owing funds on a federal student grant.
  8. Meeting additional eligibility criteria for specific cases, such as requirements for non-U.S. citizens.
  9. Signing the agreement that received financial aid will be used solely for educational purposes.

How to File a FAFSA?

Applicants have several options to complete the FAFSA form:

  • Online submission, which appears to be the most sensible variant, is available on the official website.
  • Using the ‎myStudentAid app that can be obtained on the App Store and Google Play.
  • Obtain a PDF copy of the FAFSA form via calling Information Center at 1-800-433-3243 to be printed, filled in, and mailed for further processing.

There are multiple differences and details to be considered during the entire process depending on the chosen method of submission. For instance, the applicant must disable the pop-up blocker while submitting the application online to prevent any possible complications and malfunction. The processing of the online submission is faster as well but it also requires FSA ID while printed out FAFSA form can be mailed to the stated address along with a signature page.

Those who submit the form online should consider saving a confirmation page that appears upon successful submission since it includes specific data included in the FAFSA form itself and will not be present in the emailed confirmation.

In general, the key idea to follow while submitting the FAFSA form is to read all questions and requirements extremely carefully and do not hurry. This is not a timed quiz after all and provided incorrect information that may deprive the applicant of federal financial aid.

What Happens After You Submit Your FAFSA Form?

All the information included in the FAFSA form will be carefully reviewed to determine what a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is. Complex formulae are applied in order to find out the amount of needed financial aid taking into consideration the Cost of Attendance (COA). That is why the applicant may receive the federal aid to cover study expenses in one college but may be denied for another.

A Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to the applicant within a week after submission of the FAFSA. Educational institutions also receive the summary of the FAFSA to review their own criteria and list available scholarships, programs, loans, and grants in a unique Award Letter sent to prospective students according to their own deadlines of processing forms.

FAFSA Resources

It is a good idea to visualize all the required steps and walk through the entire timeline of the application process in order to avoid confusion and missing important files or actions. Simple infographics will allow newcomers to understand what happens.

There is a need to understand what specific forms of student aid exist and what the applicant should expect.

This is the first step to be completed and failure on this stage will result in the impossibility to proceed with all the other steps of completing the form.

Check what should be done and gathered to complete the application process successfully as early as possible to make sure the required data and documents will be at hand when needed.

Learning the negative experience of other people is a sensible thing to do as there is no need to make the same mistakes if they can be easily avoided, for example, paying someone to submit the filled-in form, which is supposed to be completely free of charge.

This resource will help to understand what exact financial documents, as the most influential part of the completed FAFSA form, should be gathered and where they could be obtained.

This is the easy and accurate method of transferring Federal Tax Return information into the online FAFSA form.

Understanding whether the applicant should be considered as the dependent or independent student will allow avoiding crucial mistakes while completing the form and avoid submitting false information.

Many parents and applicants who decide to mail the completed form will need to obtain a signature page for their FSA IDs. This resource provides a useful tutorial.

The importance of including the correct schools’ codes on the FAFSA form cannot be overestimated as the student’s future depends on the correct completion of this part and these codes are easy to confuse.

Learn your approximate options and estimate the eligibility using this simple tool prior to the submission of the FAFSA form itself.

Understanding who is eligible for the financial aid and what requirements were not followed, if any, will allow international students to ease the burden of studying in a foreign country by making the financial aspect less pressing.

Calculating the cost of attendance and reviewing the available options of financial aid should be carefully completed so that the desires meet the real prices.

Completing the required verification of the provided data is obligatory as this is the way how an institution may check whether the accurate information has been provided. It is always crucial to provide valid data to be eligible for financial aid.

Make sure you pay appropriate attention to the entire process and this resource will help you to recall whether everything was done as expected.