BY COLLEGE COVERED
Every year, high school graduates walk away from billions, as much as $2.3 billion in 2017, in free federal grant money that could help pay for college, according to NerdWallet. Why? Because they don’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).With nearly 130 questions and the need to provide financial information for both students and their parents, the FAFSA can seem daunting. But failing to file it can mean losing out on free money. Students need the following information to get started.
I’m not going to fill out the form because I’m not eligible. “That is not correct,” said Megan Coval, vice president of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. If students think they are going to borrow at all, they need to fill out the form, Coval says, as not all financial aid is need-based. Unsubsidized loans also require students to fill out the FAFSA.
My parents make too much money, and I won’t qualify for aid. Most applicants qualify for some aid, regardless of their parents’ earnings. The FAFSA actually has no income cap, so students can apply no matter how high their family income.
FAFSA is only available for federal aid. “A lot of the states and institutions will use FAFSA data,” Coval said. If students don’t qualify at the federal level, they may still qualify at the state or institution level, she says. Filling out the FAFSA also qualifies students for grants, work-study, scholarships, and college aid.
The FAFSA is too complicated and hard to fill out. On average, it takes about 30 minutes to fill out. The FAFSA has been streamlined, especially online where the application uses skip logic that will skip over unnecessary questions.
I’m not eligible for a student loan because my parents are undocumented. Having undocumented parents should not prevent students from filling out the FAFSA. If students are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or eligible noncitizen, they can fill out a FAFSA, according to Marie Groark, director of Get Schooled, an organization that runs a texting hotline to help students get into college. If students’ parents are undocumented, they can use nine zeroes (000000000) where it asks for their Social Security numbers. If they get an error message, they should keep hitting the Next button until they advance to the next page. When they reach the end, they will have to click the Submit button several times if they get the same error.
The FAFSA requires students and parents to apply for an FSA ID, which also asks for Social Security numbers. But Groark says students can still file for an FSA ID even if their parents are undocumented. Students need to print out the signature page, sign it and have their parents sign it. Then they send it in, and they can get their FSA ID that way, she says.
If students’ parents didn’t file a tax return, schools may require students to submit a non-tax filer parent statement or an income and expense report. If students’ parents don’t want to submit their financial information, students can indicate on the FAFSA that there are special circumstances. This allows students to complete the form without those details. They will, however, have to contact the financial aid office to provide documentation.
The FAFSA becomes available each year on Oct. 1. Students should complete it as soon as possible since some aid is awarded on a first-come, first served basis.