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Need help paying for college? The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is your ticket to federal, state, and college-based financial aid! Mark your calendars because the FAFSA opens on October 1 for the 2023-24 school year. While it may seem strange to apply for financial aid almost a year before attending college, that’s how the process works. Let’s dive right into the details.

Who completes the FAFSA?

If you are a high school senior living with one or both parents, very likely you are considered a dependent student. In this situation, you and your parent(s) will provide income and asset information on the FAFSA. Sounds simple enough, but many family situations are not so simple.

Let’s break this down. If you are under the age of 24, the FAFSA will require parent information unless you are:

  • married.
  • a veteran or currently serving on active duty.
  • have legal dependents for which you provide more than half of their support.
  • homeless.
  • in foster care.
  • an orphan or ward of the court.
  • in a legal guardianship with someone other than a parent.

The next logical question is which parent completes the FAFSA? The answer depends on the parent’s marital status.

  • If parents are married, include both parents on the FAFSA.
  • If parents are divorced or separated, include information about the parent you lived with the most within the last 12 months.
  • If your parent is remarried, include both parent and step-parent information.
  • If your parents don’t fit into any of these categories, contact EducationQuest and we will assist.

What items are needed for the FAFSA?

Completing the FAFSA will be much easier if you gather the required documents in advance, including your Student Aid Account (user name and password), 2021 income tax form and W-2s, the value of checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, investment properties, and the value of a business or farm. I get it. Most students have just a simple savings account, but all of these questions will be asked on the FAFSA. If you are required to provide parent information the same list applies to them.

What’s the format of the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is broken down into six sections. The first section is Student Demographics. This is partially pre-populated from the Student Aid Account information so you simply complete any empty fields. Throughout the entire form, “you” and “your” refers to the student. Click on the question icon for more instructions on each FAFSA question.

In the School Selection section, add the high school where you will receive your diploma and list colleges that will receive your FAFSA results. You can list up to 10 colleges along with a housing plan for each college.

Next, the Dependency Status section will ask a series of questions to determine if you are a dependent or independent student. Dependent students are required to include parent information on the FAFSA.

The Parent Demographics section will determine which parent needs to complete the form. It will also ask about household size and the number of students in college.

Next, in the Financial Information section, follow instructions to electronically transfer the parent’s income tax information from the IRS. You will also need the 2021 W-2s and federal tax return to break down wages, federal benefits, and other untaxed income. In most cases, parents will report their assets in this section. Students will then answer the same questions about their income and assets.

Finally, electronically Sign and Submit the FAFSA. Read the information on the confirmation page. It indicates if you are eligible for a Pell Grant and estimates how much you can borrow in student loans.

What happens next?

In three to five days, expect an email with a link to your Student Aid Report which summarizes the information you provided on the FAFSA and lets you know that the form was processed. The colleges you listed on your FAFSA will send financial aid offers, if you were accepted for admission. We’ll cover all of that in an upcoming blog.

Bottom line? It’s best to complete your FAFSA by December to be eligible for the best financial aid package. Some grants and scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so plan to be early to the party. Also, keep in mind that the FAFSA needs to be completed every year you plan to attend college.

If you have questions about completing the FAFSA or how the financial aid process works, contact the EducationQuest location nearest you for free assistance.

By Jeannine Phelan