There are many tools that can help students and parents fill out the FAFSA. For instance, the IRS/Form/FAFSA Map can show you specifically which lines of your income tax returns correlate to each line of the FAFSA. The FAFSA site now also contains a simple and well-articulated guide detailing “7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA” which uses a video and narrator to guide you through each part of the process.
The steps include:
- Student demographics
- School Selection
- Dependency Status
- Parent Demographics
- Financial Information
- Sign and Submit
Additionally, a student viewing the site can click the chat feature on FAFSA’s site to speak with a live FAFSA representative. There are even financial aid calculators which can give you an estimate for what kind of aid the government will give you.
The FAFSA site encourages students to fill out their form electronically, rather than manually (due to mistakes), however, paper forms are available as well as PDF documents in English and Spanish. The electronic form also allows students to enter up to 10 different colleges to receive aid from.
What to expect — your financial aid package will include a financial aid award letter from each of the colleges you listed. Two to three weeks after submitting the FAFSA online, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to you, which paraphrases the information provided on your FAFSA and gives a summary of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This number is the amount of money the government expects your family will contribute to your education costs. To assure you are filling out FAFSA correctly, you will get the opportunity to review these details and make corrections.
The financial formula works as follows — the lower your EFC is, the more aid you will get. Essentially, the EFC is subtracted from the school’s COA (cost of attendance including books, supplies, travel, tuition, fees, room and board, etc.). If your EFC is tiny, you will get more financial aid. Essentially, the smaller your EFC is, the more financial help the government will give. There are many tips on maximizing your eligibility for aid, as well as tips on how to reduce your EFC.
In early to mid-April you will receive your financial aid award package, which will contain every detail of your financial awards based on your FAFSA, with official financial aid award letters from each school applied to, as well as from the federal government. Following that, you will be responsible for accepting or rejecting all or part of the financial aid package you choose, and completing other needed forms required by the school. Each year you will need to complete the FAFSA in order to continue requesting aid.