Step By step Guide to completing FAFSA, Everything You Should Know

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Guide to completing FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a federal aid given by the US Government to its students. The application for the loan is application-friendly to students. It is free of cost.

It has two ways of application: online or offline. So, with this grant a student can pay for college. Given its viability for students, Government in recent years came up with the idea to completing FAFSA a high school graduation requirement.

The student grant called FAFSA is given by the Department of Education, Government of the US. It has cost the department with a huge money. In the fiscal year of 2021, the grant was given amounting to $112 billion in federal grants, loans and work-study funds as per the most recent report of Federal Student Aid Annual Report.

For a 2023-24 cycle, the application is open from 1st Oct, 2022 till June next year.

Guide to completing FAFSA

Nature of FAFSA | Guide to completing FAFSA

One thing one should have in mind is that not every applicant is entitled to this benefit. But as per report, nearly all the applicants so far have got their due.

“The FAFSA is the application that is required to be used by all schools in awarding federal student aid,” says Brad Barnett, Associate Vice President for access and enrolment management and Director of financial aid at James Madison University in Virginia. “So if you want federal loans, federal grants, federal work-study, you have to do the FAFSA” and further says, “It’s very easy to qualify for aid based on the FAFSA”.

But, some deserving students deliberately ignore this benefit for the reason being a cumbersome process. The offline mode of application paper has about 100 Questionnaire being asked to an applicant, whereas online application is restricted to only relevant questions using a skip-logic technology.

This is such a level of difficulty that it takes days for a student to get done with the application process. It is typically longer for a dependent applicant, because he/she has to furnish information of himself/herself as well as parents. First timer applicants also take a longer period compared to the subsequent submissions that follow.

Experience in this regard has shown this fact in the previous cycle (2022-23). Here, it took dependent students less than 54 minutes on average to complete a new form and 35 minutes to complete a renewal; the average completion time among independent students was less than 21 minutes for a new form and 17 minutes for a renewal form.

FAFSA Eligibility Criteria

All bonafide students in the US are eligible for the grant. U.S. citizens, nationals, legal permanent residents and individuals who have a refugee status in the country are eligible to apply for federal student aid.

Students need to be enrolled in a Title IV-eligible program, meaning one that can receive federal financial aid funds, to qualify.

An applicant has to furnish to the FAFSA of information related to income, assets and demographic factors, such as household size and number of children enrolled in college at the same time.

This information is used to calculate the expected family contribution, which determines eligibility for federal student aid. For instance, if the EFC is zero, then the student will most likely qualify for the maximum Pell Grant – a federal award based on financial need.

Families that earn $29,000 or less annually are calculated as an automatic zero for the EFC in the 2023-2024 award year.

However, family income level is not a determining criteria to avail this aid. “There is no explicit income cut-off. And different types of aid have different awarding criteria,” says Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and author of “How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid.”

Students who aren’t eligible for a federal grant, for instance, may still qualify for work-study or federal loans, which typically carry lower interest rates than private education loans.

There is a constant fear that chances of getting the student is extremely high, so they deliberately ignore it. Others miss the grant for want of time i.e., keep procrastinating of filling the application form. However, a large chunk of the applicants got their grants. In 2021-22 cycle, 70% of families with undergraduate students got enrolled into it.

“The good news is FAFSA completion rates are holding steady”, Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesperson, wrote in an email. The spokesperson further stated, “But ideally, we’d like to see those numbers even higher.”

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Processes to apply for FAFSA

Filling of the form can be done by either student or family members or both. The application can be done on any electronic gadgets such as mobile phone, laptop, desktop or tablet.

According to a press release from the Department of Education, “Customers have demonstrated that they prefer to go to on a mobile device rather than use the myStudentAid mobile app.”

First of all, an applicant has to keep all the necessary documents with him. Families need their Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or state IDs, alien registration number (for non-U.S. citizens), tax information, records of untaxed income, current bank statements and investments, if any, along with the list of schools students are interested in attending.

Now, go to the website of FAFSA. Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which serves as an electronic signature. To create a unique ID, applicants will need their Social Security number, date of birth and their name as it appears on official documents.

The FSA ID is required in order to sign the FAFSA online. Alternatively, the paper version/offline, known as the PDF FAFSA, can be printed and filled out manually. While a student or parent can immediately use the FSA ID to sign a first-time FAFSA application, other activities, like a FAFSA renewal, cannot be completed until the Social Security Administration validates the information submitted to create the ID, which takes an average of one to three days.

One important thing is that, a parent who does not have a Social Security number cannot create an FSA ID. For students under age 24 who are seeking a certificate or associate or bachelor’s degree, both a student and parent FSA ID are required unless the student is considered independent on the FAFSA.

To be considered independent on the form, the student must be married or separated, but not divorced; a veteran or current member of the armed forces; an orphan; an emancipated minor or in a court-ordered legal guardianship; a homeless youth or one at risk of being homeless; a parent who provides more than half of the financial support for a child or dependent; or have received foster care or been a ward of the court for any period after age 13. Graduate and professional students are considered independent on the FAFSA.

Then enter both parent and student information such as citizenship and marital status, legal residence, Social Security number and the number of people within their household. Parents will need to submit the same information.

In an effort to streamline the application process and increase access to federal aid, small changes were made for the 2023-2024 award year as part of the phased implementation of the FAFSA Simplification Act, which was passed by Congress on Dec. 27, 2022.

Applicants should also submit their financial information. This information is received on “prior prior year principle”, meaning that a family completing the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 academic year, for instance, will use the 2021 tax return.

While filling out the form, students and parents are required to disclose income and child support payments as well as indicate whether they received federal program benefits like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and free or reduced-price school lunch.

To fully complete the FAFSA, students and parents, if applicants are filing as dependents, are required to sign the form – either digitally using their FSA ID or by hand on the paper version.
The online FAFSA is processed by the Department of Education within three to five days, and then the information is sent to the list of schools each student provided. The colleges use that to determine financial aid eligibility.

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