I get it. The FAFSA is confusing. It’s even hard to remember what the acronym stands for (I’ll help you out; it’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid). By now, you should have completed the form at StudentAid.gov. If not, read my blog titled How to Complete the FAFSA for a good overview.
But what you really want to know is what happens after you complete the FAFSA, right? It’s a lot of little things, so let me break it down.
Expect a Student Aid Report.
Three to five days after you submit the FAFSA, you can expect an email from the federal processor with a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR). Just getting the email indicates your FAFSA is being processed. Be sure to read the SAR because it will show if you are eligible for a Pell Grant, which is money that does not have to be repaid.
The SAR will also tell you two other important pieces of information. First, it will indicate how much money you may qualify to borrow via a student loan. The college will make this determination based on the other types of financial aid you receive, including outside scholarships. Second, the SAR will indicate if you were selected for verification.
Is verification in your future?
The idea of verification sounds scary, but it does not necessarily mean you did anything wrong. The Department of Education selects a percentage of FAFSA applications to verify to ensure the financial aid process is sound. If selected, the college(s) listed on your FAFSA will request documentation to verify your income, assets, and other FAFSA questions. Check out this blog for more verification information.
Expect financial aid offers!
Here’s what you’re really after…offers of financial aid from the college(s) you listed on your FAFSA. Be aware that you must be accepted for admission before you can expect a financial aid offer.
College(s) may offer you a combination of the following types of financial aid:
- Scholarships and grants: Money you don’t repay.
- Work-study: Money earned via an on-campus job.
- Student loans: Money that must be repaid.
Once you have heard back from all the colleges, compare their offers. Take note of how much you will need to borrow from each school, out-of-pocket expenses, and how much you will receive in scholarships and grants. Find more information about the types of financial aid by reading this blog: How to Read your Award Letter.
How do you apply for student loans?
If you qualify for a student loan, your college will direct you to StudentAid.gov in the spring or early summer of your senior year. You must complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN) and entrance counseling. The MPN is your promise to repay your loan, and entrance counseling will indicate what will happen if you fail to do so. Take this very seriously and only borrow what you need!
Watch your student portal(s) and email.
All FAFSA follow-up items will be sent via your student portal, email, or postal mail. Monitor all the sources closely throughout your senior year to stay on top of the financial aid process. Respond quickly to requests so you don’t miss out on money for college.
Reapply every year!
The FAFSA is not a one-time thing! You will need to complete the form every year you plan to attend college. Mark your calendar to apply for financial aid in the fall of each year (the FAFSA opens annually on October 1) and continue applying for scholarships throughout your college career. If you have questions about the FAFSA or need help completing it, contact the EducationQuest location nearest you for free assistance.
By Jeannine Phelan