A word of caution. Many people believe that if their ‘neighbors’ do not receive need-based assistance for their college-bound students, they will not be eligible either. This can be an expensive mistake, as you must realize that the financial circumstances for each individual family may be different.
Visualize your street and one household two doors down from you includes a family with parents that recently lost jobs, so the funds for their children’s college funds have had to be tapped. Another home down the street has twins about to head off to high-priced private colleges in New England, which will stretch family resources to the max. In the house at the end of your cul-de-sac, a family has recently incurred medical bills due to a series of cancer treatments for a parent. You can understand that the address on your mailbox does not determine your eligibility, but the individual family circumstances may have an impact.
GOAL OF FAFSA
The goal of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is to determine is the difference between the cost of attendance (COA) at an individual college considered and compare this with the estimated family contribution (EFC) for a student to attend. As an example, if your COA at ‘College A’ is $16,000 and your EFC is 12000, your financial need is $4,000. You would need some form of assistance (scholarship, grant, or loan) to make attendance at College A an option.
The FAFSA site does provide a tool to estimate a family’s eligibility for the Federal PELL grant and government-backed loans, but keep in mind that the estimation will not indicate eligibility for need-based grants/aid awarded by individual colleges, as these are more flexible based on an individual family circumstance. What you should know is that if you do not file a FAFSA, you will not ever know of your eligibility levels.
The process of completing the FAFSA is an annual ritual, just like filing taxes, but it has been simplified in recent years. If you are worried about sharing information with the Federal government about your income, keep in mind that if you have been filing your income taxes, they already have your financial information. When completing the FAFSA, the student/family will use tax information from the prior-prior year (i.e., 2020 tax info for the 2022-2023 academic year).
This process is as simple as importing the information directly from the IRS to the FAFSA form, so no numbers to type and errors are reduced. It is also recommended that you involve your college-bound child in the process of submitting the FAFSA, as there is a section for the student to complete and a parent section, so everyone has responsibilities. Completing the FAFSA might take a family a few hours of research and entry to complete, but this effort could result in the identification of thousands of dollars in funding. That is a pretty good hourly wage!
All colleges hope to have accepted students choose to attend, but know that there are other variables in the decision process, especially financial affordability concerns for many applicants. Scholarships, grants, and loans are some of the tools used to make college costs affordable for prospective students, but in order for colleges to help you, you must help them. If you are getting ready to send your first child off to college, or you now will have multiple children in college at the same time, definitely consider submitting the FAFSA. It is worth your time to do!