The FAFSA application is the most important college deadline. ALWAYS CHECK YOUR COLLEGE’S DEADLINES. If you are late you may miss very important financial assistance!

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines eligibility for federal grants, state grants, many scholarships, student loans, and work-study programs. The federal government does not award aid, individual colleges do based on the information you provide on the FAFSA. This is a critical application for all those going to college. The application is at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

The FAFSA can now be filed starting on October 1 (instead of January 1). The FAFSA will now collect income information from the past tax year. For example for the 2017/18 school year, you would file the FAFSA starting on October 1, 2016, using the 2015 tax information. This means you no longer need to estimate income and tax information or go back to update income. The official deadline for the FAFSA application is still June 30. HOWEVER, most colleges have their own deadlines MUCH earlier. You need to follow the college’s deadline, not the official FAFSA deadline, to qualify for various college assistance.

Much of the college financial aid is a pool of money that is used up as applications come in, so it’s always better to apply as early as possible while there are still funds available. You can locate your college’s FAFSA deadline online. On the same webpage you will most likely find out whether your college uses the CSS Profile for purposes of awarding other scholarship funds (see the end of this page for more info on CSS Profile). You can find out your state’s deadline FAFSA deadline. Students can still apply for FAFSA and/or state grants if they miss the college-imposed deadline. However, certain forms of aid (such as work-study programs) may no longer be available. One other reminder: the earlier you apply for financial aid, the earlier your college will send you your award letter. You’ll be better able to determine if you want to accept the college’s offer in time to meet their acceptance deadline.

There are other reasons to file the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1. To get it out of the way so you can focus on other things, like college applications, college coursework, or applying for scholarships (some have early deadlines). If you submit your FAFSA early there’s a chance that colleges will give you an estimated financial aid offer early, giving you more time to compare colleges before the college decision deadline.

You must complete a FAFSA every year. Family situations change from year to year, so the new information will be used to determine the level of need. To renew the FAFSA enter your FSA ID to access your original FAFSA. The answers from your original application are prefilled, you need only enter any information that has changed. The FSA ID is the same from year to year.

Need Help Paying For College? There’s An App For That

On Oct. 1 each year the rush begins. That’s when first-time and returning college students can get their first look at the upcoming FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Anyone who wants the government’s help paying for college has to finish the notoriously complicated form. But in the fall of 2018, in an effort to make it easier, the U.S. Department of Education has given the FAFSA a new look: a smartphone application.  To get the app, go to your i-tunes store, search on FAFSA and download the my Student Aid app (it’s free).

“Every year, we handle over 250 million transactions of some shape, form or fashion,” says A. Wayne Johnson, the chief strategy and transformation officer at the department’s office of Federal Student Aid. The problem, Johnson says, is that students who most need help paying for college often have the hardest time filling out the FAFSA. It asks questions about families’ income and tax status that many low-income students struggle to answer because the only computer in their lives is at school — where their parents can’t help them. That’s why, when Johnson arrived at the department last year, he says, “the very first thing that I wrote on my board was FAFSA.”

Considering the government received 19 million FAFSA forms in 2016-’17, making it easier could help a lot of potential borrowers. “We want the experience of a student to be every bit as good as if they were a customer of American Express, a customer of a major credit union,” Johnson says.  He should know. His hiring was controversial with some Democrats because he comes from the private banking world. Johnson has worked for VISA and even run his own, private student loan company. Since coming to the department, Johnson says he’s fast-tracked the development of the My Student Aid app.

Ultimately, the department hopes the app will be a one-stop shop for students. A place they can research colleges, check their loan balance and even make a payment. But the real game-changer comes soon, Oct. 1, when borrowers will be able to fill out the FAFSA on their phones using the new app. “Many families, including low-income families, rely on smartphones solely for their internet access,” says Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network.

Cook says, in the past, many students had no choice but to fill out the FAFSA in a school computer lab. They still can, especially if they’re getting help from a counselor, but now they can also take it home — for the questions that only a parent can answer. They’ll also be able to access the IRS’ data-retrieval toolwhich helps students by auto-populating the FAFSA with key tax information.

Cook believes this new app also changes the game for school counselors and advocates, like her, who are trying to spread the word about the importance of applying for federal student aid. A mobile FAFSA allows them “to meet students where they are, at festivals, at football games. To meet parents where they are, maybe at brownbag lunches or financial aid nights.” 
 

Filing the FAFSA

Obtain an FSA ID

The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov. You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. If you’re asked for credit card information, you’re not on the official government site.

The first thing you should do is register for an FSA ID, as you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign into your FAFSA.

To obtain an FSA ID, go to the FSFSA home page, click on the FSA ID tab at the top of the page, click on the Create Your FSA ID Now button in the center and complete the information. You will need a Social Security number and birth date for each ID. On average, it takes about seven minutes to create an FSA ID. Both you and one of your parents/guardians must have an ID to sign the application.

If you have an old FAFSA PIN, you will need to register for a FSA ID as the PIN is no longer used. You can link your information to your new FSA ID (user name & password) by entering your PIN while registering for your FSA ID. This will save you time when registering for your FSA ID. If you’ve forgotten your PIN, don’t worry; you can either enter the answer to your PIN “challenge question” during the FSA ID registration process to link your PIN, or you can just create your FSA ID from scratch.

An e-mail address cannot be used for more than one FSA ID. It is strongly recommended that you add your email address when registering. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave this field blank. You can add an email later. If you can’t fill out the FAFSA online, you have other options.

Gather the information you need to file
  • Your FSA ID (and your parent’s ID)
  • Your federal tax return (include spouse if married)
  • Your W-2s
  • Your parents’ federal tax returns (if you are dependent)
  • Your parents’ W-2s (if you are dependent)
  • Records of any other income received (welfare, social security, child support, VA Benefits, etc.)
  • Current balances of checking and saving accounts and other investments
  • Alien Registration Card if not a US citizen
  • If the student has a driver’s license – he/she should have that as well.
Fill in the FAFSA application

When you go to log in to fafsa.gov, you will be given the option to “Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID” OR “Enter the student’s information.” If you are the student, we highly recommend choosing the first option if you can. If you log in with your FSA ID, a lot of your information (name, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) will be automatically loaded into your application. This will prevent you from running into a common error that occurs when your verified FSA ID information doesn’t match the information on your FAFSA. Additionally, you won’t have to provide your FSA ID again to transfer your information from the IRS or to sign your FAFSA electronically.

On average, the FAFSA takes about an hour to complete once you have gathered your information. The US Department of Education, which administers the FAFSA, has a very good step by step guide for the FAFSA application process.

Tips to remember when completing FAFSA

Be careful not to confuse parent and student Information. There are many parents fill out the FAFSA for their child, but remember, the FAFSA is the student’s application. When the FAFSA says “you” or “your”, it’s referring to the student, so make sure to enter your (the student’s) information. If it is asking for your parent’s information, it will specify that in the question.

To avoid delays in processing your application, triple-check that you have entered the correct SSN. You must enter your full name as it appears on your Social Security card.

When asked in the FASFA application if you want to apply for PHEAA answer yes. From the FASFA confirmation page look for “optional feature” to start your state application to apply for PA state based financial aid.

Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add any college you are considering to your FAFSA, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted. Doing so will hold your place in line for financial aid in case you end up applying for that school. You can add up to 10 schools at a time. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these steps. It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools. In fact, you don’t have to remove schools you later decide not to apply to. If you don’t end up applying or getting accepted to a school, the school can just disregard your FAFSA. But you can remove schools at any time to make room for new schools.

It can be very helpful to increase your state aid if you list in-state schools first on your list of colleges. The state will see the list of schools to which you are applying. If you put in-state schools at the bottom of that list, the state may assume you would prefer schools out of the state and give you less aid. See this article which explains more.

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, and file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering the financial information. But now students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

If you don’t use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool you can enter information manually. For the assessed income tax liability, refer to this chart to find the correct number.

Finish the FAFSA

Don’t forget you and your parents need to sign the FAFSA with your FSA IDs and submit it. If you’re not able to sign with your FSA ID, you and/or your parent have the option to mail a signature page. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

After you complete the FAFSA online and click “SUBMIT,” you’ll see a confirmation page. This is not your award package. You’ll get that separately from the college(s) you apply to and get into. The confirmation page provides federal aid estimates based on the information you provided on your FAFSA. It’s important to know that these figures are truly estimates and assume the information you provided on the FAFSA is correct. To calculate the actual amount of aid you’re eligible for, your school will take into account other factors, such as the cost to attend the school. Additionally, these estimates only take into account federal aid and not outside scholarships or state and institutional financial assistance you may also be eligible for.

Once your FAFSA has been submitted, in 3 days to 3 weeks you will receive a Student Aid Report generated from the information you provided on the FAFSA from the federal government. Go to our Paying for College page for more information.

The school(s) listed on your FAFSA will notify the student if any other information is required to complete the financial aid process. Some will want additional information so don’t ignore this request.

Making changes to the FAFSA

After your FAFSA has been submitted and processed (about 3 days), you can go back and submit a correction to certain fields. This includes correcting a mistake or adding another school to receive your FAFSA information. If you want to apply to a school not on your FAFSA list you must get this college added otherwise it will not know to offer you any aid. Log in with your FSA ID, and then click “Make FAFSA Corrections.”

Once you have filed the FAFSA…

Once you finish then what?  Here are some things to remember:

  • After you complete the FAFSA form online and click “SUBMIT,” you’ll see a confirmation page. This is not your financial aid offer. You’ll get that separately from the school(s) you apply to and get into.  The confirmation page provides federal aid estimates based on the information you provided on your FAFSA form. It’s important to know that these figures are truly estimates and assume the information you provided on the FAFSA form is correct. To calculate the actual amount of aid you’re eligible for, your school will take into account other factors, such as the cost to attend the school. Additionally, these estimates only take into account federal aid and not outside scholarships or state and institutional financial assistance you may also be eligible for.  (TIP: Each school you are accepted to and include on your FAFSA form will send you a financial aid offer. Until you receive this notification, it may be difficult to know exactly how much aid you might be eligible to receive from a specific school. To get an idea of how much aid schools tend to give depending on your family’s income, visit CollegeScorecard.ed.gov and type in the school(s) you want to look up.
  • The information you report on your FAFSA form is used to calculate your EFC. It’s very important to note that the EFC, in most cases, is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college.  Instead, the EFC is an index number used by financial aid offices to calculate your financial need. The formula they use is: “Cost of attendance – expected family contribution (EFC) = Your financial need.”  Each school will do its best to meet your financial need. Some schools may meet 100% of your financial need, and other schools may only meet 10%—it just depends on the school and the financial aid they have available that year. You should complete the FAFSA form annually because there are many factors that can change from year to year. (NOTE: Contrary to popular belief, the EFC formula considers more than just income. Factors such as dependency status, family size, and the number of family members who will attend college are just a few of the additional factors considered.)
  • Many schools won’t be able to meet your full financial need, so you’ll need a way to pay the difference between the financial aid your school offers and what the school costs. Scholarships are a great way to fill the gap. (Who doesn’t like free money?)  Don’t wait until after you receive your financial aid offer to start applying for scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships out there, but many have early deadlines. Set a goal for yourself; for example, maybe you aim to apply to one scholarship per week. There’s tons of free money, but you can’t get it unless you apply. Make scholarship applications your focus while you wait for your financial aid offer. The applications may take some time, but the possible pay out makes it all worth it.
  • The FAFSA form is available on Oct. 1 each year. Even if you submit it early, that doesn’t mean you’ll get an aid offer right away. Each school has a different schedule for awarding and paying out financial aid.  Remember that your school disburses your aidnot the “FAFSA people” (Federal Student Aid). Contact your school’s financial aid office for details about when they send out aid offers. If you want to see an estimate of your school’s average annual cost, use the College Scorecard. If you want to report significant changes in your family or financial situation, contact your school’s financial aid office. (TIP: After your FAFSA form has been processed successfully, it’s a good idea to make sure the schools you listed on your FAFSA form have received everything they need. You should find out if your school requires additional applications or documentation and submit any required documentation by the appropriate deadlines.)
  • Lastly, after your FAFSA form has been processed (which takes about 3 days), you can go back and submit a correction to certain fields. This includes correcting a typo or adding another school to receive your FAFSA information. Log in with your FSA ID, and then click “Make FAFSA Corrections.” You can add up to 10 schools at a time. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these steps.  (NOTE: Parents of dependent students cannot initiate a FAFSA correction. Students have to begin the correction process by logging in with their FSA ID, clicking “Make FAFSA Corrections,” and creating a Save Key they can share with their parent.)
Am I eligible to fill out a FAFSA?

Part-time students are eligible for most types of aid, but some colleges will not offer aid to part-time students. You need to confirm your situation with each school. For many schools, full-time students must be taking at least 12 credits in a semester.

If you are not a naturalized citizen, you can apply for FAFSA assistance as long as you and/or your parent(s) have green cards.

12 Common FAFSA Mistakes

Starting on October 1, 2016, you’ll be required to use earlier (2015) tax information than in previous years. How does that benefit you? Since you’ve already filed your 2015 taxes, you’ll be able to transfer your tax information into your FAFSA right away! (And you won’t need to update your FAFSA after you file 2016 taxes.  These exciting changes are sure to save you time and make the FAFSA much easier to complete. Just make sure to take your time so you don’t make one of these mistakes:
1. Not Completing the FAFSA

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes too long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. The FAFSA is not just the application for federal grants such as the Pell Grant. It’s also the application for work-study funds, low-interest federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by your state, school, or private organization. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you could lose out on thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes little time to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.

2. Not Using the Correct Website

The official FAFSA website is fafsa.gov. That’s .gov! You never have to pay to complete the FAFSA. If you’re asked for credit card information, you’re not on the official government site.

3. Not Getting an FSA ID Ahead of Time

An FSA ID is a username and password that you must use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites, including fafsa.gov. You AND your parent, if you’re considered a dependent student, will each need your own, separate FSA IDs if you each want to sign your FAFSA online.

Why is it so important to get an FSA ID early? Well, once you register for an FSA ID, you may need to wait up to three days before you can use it to sign your FAFSA. If you don’t want your FAFSA to be delayed, create an FSA ID now. If you’re a dependent student, have your parent create an FSA ID too. Just DO NOT share your FSA IDs with each other!

4. Waiting to Fill Out the FAFSA

If you want to get the most financial aid possible, fill out the FAFSA ASAP after October 1. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis and some states and colleges run out of money early, so even if your deadlines aren’t for a while, get your FAFSA done ASAP. Now that you’re required to use earlier (2015) tax information to complete the FAFSA, you have no excuse to wait!

5. Not Filing by the Deadline

As I said, you should fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can, but you should DEFINITELY fill it out before your earliest FAFSA deadline. Each state and school sets its own deadline.Some priority deadlines will be earlier this year because the FAFSA is available earlier. To maximize the amount of your financial aid, fill out your FAFSA (and any other financial aid applications that may be required by your state or school) by your earliest deadline, if not sooner!

6. Not using your FSA ID to start the FAFSA

When you go to log in to fafsa.gov, you will be given the option to “Enter your (the student’s) FSA ID” OR “Enter the student’s information.” If you are the student, we highly recommend choosing the first option (highlighted below) if you can. If you log in with your FSA ID, a lot of your information (name, Social Security number, date of birth, etc.) will be automatically loaded into your application.  This will prevent you from running into a common error that occurs when your verified FSA ID information doesn’t match the information on your FAFSA. Additionally, you won’t have to provide your FSA ID again to transfer your information from the IRS or to sign your FAFSA electronically.

7. Not Reading Definitions Carefully

When it comes to completing the FAFSA, you want to read each definition and question carefully, because sometimes, how the FAFSA wants you to answer certain questions is not how you’d intuitively answer the question.

Here are some items that have very specific (but not intuitive) definitions according to the FAFSA:

  • Legal Guardianship: One question on the FAFSA asks: “As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you in legal guardianship?” Many students incorrectly answer “yes” here. For this question, the definition of legal guardianship does not include your parents, even if they were appointed by a court to be your guardian. You are also not considered a legal guardian of yourself.
  • Parent: The FAFSA has very specific guidelines for which parent(s) need to be reported on the FAFSA. (Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with who claims you on their taxes.)
  • Your Number of Family Members (Household size): The FAFSA has a specific definition of how your or your parents’ household size should be determined. Read the instructions carefully. Many students incorrectly report this number, especially when the student doesn’t physically live with the parent.
  • Number of Family Members in College: Enter the number of people in your (oryour parents’) household who will attend college at the same time you attend college. Don’t forget to include yourself. Do not include your parents in this number. This number should never be greater than your number of family members.
8. Inputting Incorrect Information

Here are some examples of common errors we see on the FAFSA:

  • Confusing Parent and Student Information: I know there are many parents out there who fill out the FAFSA for their child, but remember, the FAFSA is the student’s application. When the FAFSA says “you” or “your”, it’s referring to the student, so make sure to enter your (the student’s) information. If we are asking for your parent’s information, we will specify that in the question.
  • Entering the Wrong Name (Yes, I’m serious): You wouldn’t believe how many people have issues with their FAFSA because they entered an incorrect name on the application. It doesn’t matter if you’re Madonna, or Drake, or whatever Snoop Lion is calling himself these days. You must enter your full name as it appears on your Social Security card. No nicknames.
  • Entering the Wrong Social Security Number (SSN): When we process FAFSAs, we cross-check your Social Security number with the Social Security Administration. To avoid delays in processing your application, triple-check that you have entered the correct SSN. If you meet our basic eligibility criteria, but you or your parents don’t have an SSN, follow these instructions.
  • Amount of Your Income Tax: Here, we are asking for your assessed income tax liability, not the amount of income tax withheld, and not your adjusted gross income (AGI). I know this is complicated. To make it simple, either transfer your tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool or use this to find out which tax line number you should refer to when answering this question. (Note: It depends on which IRS form you filed.)
9. Not Reporting Parent Information

Even if you fully support yourself, pay your own bills, and file your own taxes, you may still be considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes, and therefore, you’ll need to provide parent information on your FAFSA. Dependency guidelines for the FAFSA are determined by Congress and are different from those of the IRS. Find out whether you need to provide parent information by answering these questions.

10. Listing only one college

Two-thirds of precollege FAFSA applicants list only one college on their applications. Unless you are only applying to one college or already know where you’re going to school, this is a mistake! Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add ANY college you are considering to your FAFSA, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted. You can add up to 10 schools at a time. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these steps.

TIP: It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools. In fact, you don’t even have to remove schools you later decide not to apply to. If you don’t end up applying or getting accepted to a school, the school can just disregard your FAFSA. But you can remove schools at any time to make room for new schools.

11. Not Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

For many, the most difficult part about filling out the FAFSA is entering the financial information. But now, thanks to a partnership with the IRS, students and parents who are eligible can automatically transfer the necessary tax info into the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. And this year, the tool will be available on the same day the FAFSA launches (you used to have to wait until February.)

Since earlier tax information is now require (2015 info instead of 2016 info), you’ll already have filed your 2015 taxes by the time you start the 2017–18 FAFSA. This means you can transfer your tax info right away and you won’t need to go back in and update your FAFSA with 2016 tax info. In fact, you can’t update the application with 2016 tax info; 2015 is what’s required.

12. Not Signing the FAFSA

So many students answer every single question that is asked, but fail to actually sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID and submit it. This happens for many reasons —maybe you forgot your FSA ID, or your parent isn’t with you to sign with the parent FSA ID —so the FAFSA is left incomplete. Don’t let this happen to you.

  • If you don’t know your FSA ID, select “Forgot username” and/or “Forgot password.”’
  • If you don’t have an FSA ID, create one. (Note: You may need to wait up to three days for your information to be verified before you can use your new FSA ID to sign the FAFSA, but it’s still faster than mailing a signature page.)

If you’re not able to sign with your FSA ID, you and/or your parent have the option to mail a signature page. If you would like confirmation that your FAFSA has been submitted, you can check your status immediately after you submit your FAFSA online.

Who is Considered a Family Member When it Comes to Filing for Financial Aid

Confusion is common in the areas of divorced vs. separated parents; adoptive vs. biological parents; legal guardians vs. foster parents; grandparents; and dependent vs. independent students for financial aid applications.  The legal relationship of those in the student’s household is strategic in regards to whose income and assets are reported on the FAFSA, and whether or not the student qualifies as a dependent or independent student. Here is a simple explanation of how to determine each one of these family categories:

Married Parents

If the student’s parents are married, their income and asset information must both be listed on the financial aid application. If the student’s parents are living together and have not been formally married, yet meet the criteria in their state for a common-law marriage, then they should report their status as married on the FAFSA and report their income and assets. If the state of residence does not consider the relationship to be a common-law marriage, then the parents should file as if they are separated.Step-Parents

Step-Parents

If the student has a stepparent, the stepparent’s income and asset information must be included on the financial aid application, even if the stepparent was not married to the natural parent prior to signing the application. Prenuptial agreements do not affect this rule.

If the biological parent has died and the stepparent survives, then the student is considered an “independent student” (assuming the student is not dependent on the surviving parent), unless the stepparent legally adopted the student.

Divorced or Separated Parents

If the parents are divorced or separated, the income and asset information of the parent with whom the student lived the most in the last twelve months must be listed. The separation need not be a legal separation. The student’s parents may consider themselves separated if one of the parents has left the household for an indefinite period of time and no longer makes a substantial contribution to the finances of the household.

If the student did not live with one parent more than with the other (as in the cases of joint custody), the income and asset information of the parent who provided the majority of financial support during the last twelve months must be listed. Support includes money, gifts, loans, housing, food, clothes, car, medical and dental care, payment of college costs, etc.

Widowed or Single Parents

If the parent is widowed or single, only that parent’s income and asset information is listed on the financial aid application.  If a parent dies before the application is signed, only the surviving parent’s income and assets are listed on the application.  When a joint tax return has been filed, the surviving parent’s income and corresponding tax liability is separated out and only these amounts are listed on the application. The surviving parent must list only his/her income and assets at the time of signing the application.  Should both the student’s parents be deceased at the time the student signs the application, the student is considered an “independent student.”

Adoptive Parents

Adoptive parents are treated in the same manner as biological parents. Their income and assets are reported on the financial aid application forms.

Foster Parents

If the student has foster parents, the foster parents’ income and assets are not reported on the financial aid application forms, unless the student is legally adopted by the foster parents.

Legal Guardians

If the student has a legal guardian, the guardian’s income and asset information are not reported on the financial aid application, unless the student is legally adopted by the guardian(s).

Grandparents

If the student is living with grandparents, the grandparents’ income and asset information are not reported on the financial aid application, unless the student is legally adopted by the grandparents.

Number Of Household Members

The number of people in the student’s household is used in the calculation of the financial aid formula/FAFSA. The household number is reported on the FAFSA as of the date the FAFSA form is signed. Specifically, the “number of household members”, includes:

  • The student (even if the student does not live with the parents),

  • The student’s parents, including guardians or custodians,

  • The student’s siblings, if they received or will receive more than half of their support from the student’s parent(s) between July 1st and June 30th of the upcoming college year or if they would be required to report parental information on the financial aid application,

  • The student’s children, if they received or will receive more than half of their support from the student’s parent(s) between July 1st and June 30th of the upcoming college  year (even if the children do not live with the student’s parent(s), they must  be counted if they meet this criteria),

  • The student’s parents’ unborn child  and/or the student’s unborn child, if that child will be born before or during the upcoming college year and the student’s parents will provide more than half of the child’s support from the projected date of birth until the end of the college year (if there is a medical determination of a multiple birth, then all expected children can be included), and

  • other persons, if they live with and receive more than half of their support from the student’s parent(s) at the time of signing the application and will continue to receive that support for the entire upcoming college year.

Number Of Household Members In College

The FAFSA form requests information on the number in the household that will attend college (excluding the student’s parents) between July 1st and June 30th of the upcoming college year.Members of the household (including the student) may be counted as college students if they are planning to enroll (or are accepted for enrollment) for at least six credit hours in at least one term.

Members of the household (including the student) may be counted as college students if they are planning to enroll (or are accepted for enrollment) for at least six credit hours in at least one term (twelve clock hours per week), even if they do not complete a term. They must also be working towards a degree or certificate leading to an education credential at a college or trade school that participates in any of the Federal student aid programs. A high school student merely taking college courses cannot be considered as enrolled in college.

Additional household members in college can greatly reduce the family EFC because the parents’ contribution is essentially cut in half if there are two household members attending college, and a third is there are three household members attending college, etc.

Independent Students

An independent student does not have to report the parents’ income and assets on the financial aid application forms and therefore may stand a better chance to receive need-based financial aid from a college.  To determine if the student qualifies as an independent student, the financial aid rules regarding independent students must be reviewed.

 According to FAFSA regulations, if one or any of the following apply to you, then you will be considered an Independent Student:

  1. You are enrolled in a Masters program, Doctorate Degree, or graduate Certification program; your age does not matter, if you are enrolled in any of these types of programs you are considered and independent student
  2. You have a child or children that are your legal dependent(s); you may have a family member etc. that is considered your dependent…he/she does not necessarily have to be a child
  3. You are married
  4. You are under the age of 24 and both of your parents are deceased
  5. You were a ward of your state until you were 18 years of age
  6. You are 24 years of age or older
  7. You are a Veteran of the United States Armed Force
  8. You were a foster child after the age of 13.
  9. You are an emancipated child as determined by a court judge.
  10. You are homeless or at risk of homelessness as determined by the director of a HUD approved homeless shelter, transitional program, or high school liaison.

You will still need to complete an application, and may need letters of support.  Be sure to allow plenty of time when making this application!

Other Questions About FAFSA

Is my FAFSA confirmation page the same as my financial aid award.

After you complete the FAFSA online and click “SUBMIT,” you’ll see a confirmation page. This is not your award package. You’ll get that separately from the school(s) you apply to and get into. Your school(s) calculate your aid.

The confirmation page provides federal aid estimates based on the information you provided on your FAFSA. It’s important to know that these figures are truly estimates and assume the information you provided on the FAFSA is correct. To calculate the actual amount of aid you’re eligible for, your school will take into account other factors, such as the cost to attend the school. Additionally, these estimates only take into account federal aid and not outside scholarships or state and institutional financial assistance you may also be eligible for.

TIP: Each school you are accepted to and include on your FAFSA will send you a financial aid award. Until you receive this award letter/notification from a school, it may be difficult to know exactly how much aid you might be eligible to receive from that specific school. To get an idea of how much aid schools tend to give depending on your family’s income, visit CollegeScorecard.ed.gov

How is my Expected Family Contribution (EFC) used to calculate my aid?

The information you report on your FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC. It’s very important to note that the EFC, in most cases, is not the exact amount of money your family will have to pay for college.  Instead, the EFC is an index number used by financial aid offices to calculate how much financial aid you would receive if you were to attend their school. The formula they use is:

  • Cost of attendance
  • Expected family contribution
  • Your financial “need”

Each school will then do its best to meet your financial need. Some schools may meet 100% of your financial need, and other schools may only meet 10%–it just depends on the school and the financial aid they have available that year. You should complete the FAFSA annually because there are many factors that can change each year you plan to be in school.

NOTE: Contrary to popular belief, the EFC formula considers more than just income. Factors such as dependency status, family size, and the number of children in your family who are attending college are just a few of the additional factors considered.

How will I know that my FAFSA has been processed?

You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) generated from the information you provided on the FAFSA from the federal government. Within seven to ten days after you receive the SAR, FAFSA will receive the same information electronically. Keep the SAR for your records or a copy of the SAR if you must submit corections. Receiving your SAR does NOT mean that your FAFSA was accepted or that you are elgible for financial aid.  The SAR is a number that is calculated totally based on numbers.

What should I look for in my SAR?

Check your SAR for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – this will be in the top right corner of page 1.  Check also for any errors in your SAR – if there are errors you need to get them corrected or your EFC will be wrong.  If you were selected for verification – you will find an asterisk (*) after your EFC and instructions on what you need to do.  (A number of applications are selected randomly each your for verification.)  Be sure you keep copies of all documents used for your FAFSA so if you are selected for verification you will have these for reference.

If there were mistakes on my SAR, what do I do?

Correct these mistakes immediately.  You just log into FAFSA.gov, enter your pin, and make the corrections.  You will need to start over if your social security number is incorrect.  If you have an extenuating circumstance (such as a death of a parent, a loss of a job, etc.), then contact your school immediately.  They may be able to reevaluate your application.

How do the schools I listed on my FAFSA find out about my application?  

The school(s) listed on your SAR will notify the student if any other information is required to complete the financial aid process. (Some WILL want additional information – so don’t ignore this request!)  Each school will determine your eligibility for financial aid and notify you in writing or electronically. The notification you receive is commonly known as an Award Letter or Notification of Financial Aid Eligibility.  It can be very helpful to increase your state aid if you list in-state schools FIRST on your list of colleges.  The state will see the list of schools to which you are applying.  If you put in-state schools at the bottom of that list, the state may assume you would prefer schools out of the state and give you less aid.  So always list in-state schools FIRST, no matter your preference!  See this article which explains more. 

What if I decide to apply to an additional school that was not listed on my original FAFSA? 

You MUST get this school added – otherwise it will not know to offer you any aid.  To do this – you just go to FAFSA.gov, use your pin and log into your account, and add the school code online.  (You can get the school’s 6-digit Federal School Code at FAFSA.gov as well!)

I’m going to be married during the school year for which I am applying for aid. Can I fill out my FAFSA as “married”?

No. You must indicate your marital status as of the date you are completing the FAFSA. You can update your marital status once you have filed your FAFSA.

I’m a student and I’ve had a job.  Do I combine my income with my parents’ income on the FAFSA?  

It is not combined, but both the parents and the student’s income will be included.  The FAFSA includes two separate sections – one for the parents’ income and one for the student’s income.  Just like the parents, the student will need to also have filed a tax return and include his/her information on the FAFSA form.

Can an adult apply for FAFSA support if he/she is going to go to college?

If an adult is interested in going back to school but needs some help with the expenses, he/she is perfectly able to apply to FAFSA for support, just the same as an 18 year old would apply.  He would apply as an independent so there would be no reason for “parent information”  on the application.

What if I’ve been selected for verification?  What does that mean?

Verification is a process used to verify certain information on the FAFSA to ensure its accuracy. Some students are selected for verification by the U.S. Department of Education. Others are selected by the school. Usually only a certain percentage of students are selected for verification (but keep in mind that some schools choose to do 100% verification so every student file is verified).  For more details on verification go to https://www.ecampustours.com/for-students/paying-for-college/financial-aid-the-FAFSA/have-you-been-selected-for-fafsa-verification.aspx#.VL6yuS7F82B

Here is a good video on verification for a specific school – ignore the school – the information works for all schools.

Will I receive my school’s award letter as soon as my FAFSA is submitted?

Even though the FAFSA is available in October each year, that doesn’t mean you’ll get an award letter earlier. Some schools may send you an award letter earlier, while other schools may stick to the timeline they have used in the past.

Remember that your school disburses your aid, not the FAFSA, and each school has a different schedule. Contact your school for details about when they send out award letters. If you want to see an estimate of your school’s average annual cost, use the College Scorecard. If you want to report significant changes in your family or financial situation, contact your school’s financial aid office.

TIP: After completing your FAFSA, it’s always a good idea to double-check with the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to. You should find out if they need additional paperwork or have other deadlines.

If I qualify for federal loans, will they be the same no matter what school I attend?  

The total of the loans may be the same, but the way the loans are broken down may be different.  You might receive more subsidized loans from one school, and more unsubsidized loans from another school.

Can I call FAFSA if I have a question?

If you’d prefer to call to ask a question to FAFSA – call 1-800-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), Monday through Friday – 8am-midnight; Saturdays 9am-6pm.  You can also go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/fsaid

PHEAA Assistance

Besides applying for FAFSA assistance – many colleges also have programs through PHEAA, especially Pennsylvania Colleges.  Below is information explaining these options.

What is PHEAA and how is it different from FAFSA?

PHEAA stands for Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.  PHEAA administers the PA state grant program, which offers financial aid (in the form of grants) to qualifying students.  You must have filled out the FAFSA first to become eligible for a PHEAA grant.  These grants have higher awards if you are attending a college in Pennsylvania.  Go to http://www.pheaa.org/index.html for MUCH more information about PHEAA.

Does PHEAA offer any summer school tuition assistance?

PHEAA can offer summer grants for some students.  Students must be taking at least 6 credits, be a PA resident, making satisfactory academic progress, and have the FAFSA form filed.  Students will have to make the payments first as the grants may not be known prior to the time the bills are due.  To apply go to www.pheaa.org – under “most popular places” click on PA State Grant Program – then Summer State Grant.  Complete the grant on-line.

Would the amount you receive from PHEAA be the same for every school to which you apply?

It is not!  The state grant is dependent on the cost of the school to which you attend.  The state offers the biggest amount of PHEAA assistance to students attending private schools where the tuition is highest.  State school students receive a little less, and students at community colleges will receive even less.  The amount of the PHEAA aid to students at a PA state school was around $2700 for the 2018/19 school year.

CSS Profile

What is the CSS Profile?

The College Scholarship Service CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® is the financial aid application service of the College Board. More than 400 colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools, and scholarship programs use the information collected on the CCS Profile to determine eligibility for non-federal student aid funds, such as institutional scholarships, grants, and loans. This is money that the college may have from endowments or other special forms of funding. The CSS Profile is a fully Web-based application system that provides students a secure and efficient method for reporting their financial data to higher education institutions. The CSS Profile is a more detailed questionnaire than the FAFSA, focusing on information about the specific programs at schools to which you are applying.  For more information go to CSS Profile.

Does it cost any money to apply for a CSS Profile?

Yes, there is a cost for filing your CSS Profile. In 2017 the fee was $25 for the first college, and $16 for each additional college. Students who are from low-income families with limited assets will automatically receive fee waivers. Almost 300 colleges and scholarship programs require the CSS Profile.

How do I find out if my college requires the CSS profile, and if they do, what is the deadline?

Go to your college website. Under admissions/financial aid locate the college priority filing deadline for FASFA.  In that same location you should also be able to determine whether your college uses the CSS Profile for purposes of awarding other scholarship funds. You should register for CSS Profile as soon as you’re sure about where you are applying for aid.  This should be, at the minimum, at least two weeks before the earliest college or scholarship program priority filing date you need to meet. The priority filing date is the date by which the college or program tells you that you must have submitted a completed PROFILE Application.

How do I complete the CSS Profile?

PROFILE applications are customized for each student, based on information you supply during registration. Customization allows the PROFILE to respond to the unique needs of each applicant and provides a streamlined application process, by asking only the questions that pertain to you, your family and your financial situation. Register at PROFILE Online, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Registration requires a College Board online account.

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