Your Guide to the FAFSA

Now that the holidays have passed and 2015 is upon us, the 2015-16 FAFSA is available to be completed. This form generates many questions from parents and students alike as they work their way through it. Below you’ll find advice that will take the stress out of the FAFSA process.

Getting Started – The PIN

Before you can input your personal and financial information, or even select the schools that will receive this info, you will need to create a PIN number. Parents AND students are required to create this PIN, a four-digit number that acts as your electronic signature. One parent, not both, will be required to sign along with the student.

If you haven’t already created a PIN you can do so through the this site.

If you’ve already created a PIN but forget what it is you can request a duplicate through the this site.

You will need to create a PIN before you are able to submit the FAFSA, so it is a good starting spot.

Getting Started – The FAFSA

You will go to this site to either start a new FAFSA or resume one you’ve already began. In either case, it will request personal information in the form of the birth date, first and last name and social security number of the student that is submitting the FAFSA.

You will have the opportunity to create a password. Do it! This password isn’t the same as your PIN number, but it is required if you want to start your FAFSA, take a break and then resume the same FAFSA at a later time.

FAFSA School Code

As you input your personal information one of the sections will request the school(s) that is to receive the FAFSA. You can search these in one of two ways, but it’s often easiest to visit the school’s website and use the FAFSA School Code they provide. This helps to avoid schools other than those you intend to list on the FAFSA. If you accidentally select the wrong school this will result in these schools receiving the FAFSA instead of the schools you intended. You can find a school’s FAFSA Codes in the financial aid section of the school’s website.

Don’t Wait!

One common question related to the FAFSA surrounds the timing of completion. The FAFSA will not be finalized until the current year’s taxes have been completed and reported. However, in the meantime, you CAN file an estimated FAFSA. This allows you to meet the recommended deadlines which often fall in February of the student’s senior year of high school. (Almost) no one has their taxes done and complete by that time, and that’s OK. While you want to make sure the estimates you are using are as close to what will ultimately be reported as they can be, you should not wait for your taxes to be finalized to complete the FAFSA.

Household Size?

How big is your household? This question confuses many parents, as they don’t know what constitutes household. Does this include children that spend most of the year living in a college apartment? Does this include children that have graduated but who are still supported by mom and dad? Does this include grandparents that are living with and supported by their children? The answer to all of the above situations can be yes. This is a case-by-case situation, but it’s good to remember that the larger your household size the greater your financial aid eligibility.

Am I Independent?

Like household size, determining if your student is dependent or independent is another question that has some parents scratching their heads. Just because parents are not willing to provide support when it comes to college doesn’t make the student an independent student. Even if the student is going to pay their entire way doesn’t mean they are independent. The FAFSA will ask the student a string of questions to determine if they are independent. Unless they are able to answer one or more of these ‘yes’ they will not be considered an independent student, unless the attending school’s financial aid office overrides the decision.

Do I have to fill out this form AGAIN!?!

The answer is yes. The FAFSA, and other school-specific financial aid forms, are required each year the student is attending. This is because the school will re-evaluate financial aid eligibility each year. In this way there is the potential for the need-based financial aid extended to increase or decrease based on the family’s financial situation.

There is help out there!

Hopefully the information provided allows you to confidently complete the FAFSA. However, if you still have questions and feel you can use a hand with the process you can contact me. I can either walk a family through the FAFSA or get them started and review the form prior to submission to make sure opportunities are not missed and financial aid eligibility is maximized.

Whatever you decide be sure not to miss out on financial aid opportunities!

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