When you think of paying for your kids’ college, you likely see dollar signs and wonder how to afford the cost of higher education. In order for your child to receive financial aid to help pay for college, they’ll have to complete the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This guide will answer your questions about how you can best help your child fill out their FAFSA.
Most Common FAFSA Questions Answered
Where Do You Complete the FAFSA?
You can find the FAFSA application online at FAFSA.ed.gov. Your child will need a federal student aid ID and password. (If they’ve previously filled out a FAFSA, they should already have those; if this is their first time, they’ll need their Social Security number). One common FAFSA mistake to avoid: Students and parents often mix up their IDs. When starting an application, be sure you have the right info on hand.
What Information Do I Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?
Planning ahead and gathering the necessary paperwork in advance will make it easier to complete the FAFSA. Start with this checklist of documents you’ll need from Nerdwallet. Because the application takes into account everything from citizenship status to financial independence when determining aid, you’ll need items like tax returns and bank statements handy.
What Do These Tricky FAFSA Questions Mean?
With more than 100 questions on the form, pay special attention to these confusing FAFSA questions:
- Questions 24-25 – Parents’ Level of Education: Be sure to read this question carefully: the FAFSA asks about completed education. Even if you are just a credit or two shy of a degree, have your child use that to their advantage. There is a lot of aid available to students with parents who don’t have a college degree.
- Question 31 – Work Study: Even if your child doesn’t think they want to work during school, check “yes.” This keeps them in the running for several on-campus opportunities that are a great way to earn money while in school. Note: Your child doesn’t have to accept work study, even if it is part of their financial aid award.
- Questions 61-64 – Parents’ Social Security Information: Parents who live in the same household need to provide their financial information (whether or not you will be helping pay for education). If you are divorced or separated, the parent your child lives with the most (even 51 percent of the time) should be considered the primary parent if you claim your child as a dependent.
- Question 90-91 – Parents’ Cash and Investments: This is where your child lists family assets, which include taxable investment accounts and 529 savings plans, but exclude the value of the home your child lives in and retirement accounts. Be sure your child is only reporting the family and savings assets once (preferably as your assets).
When Is the FAFSA Application Deadline?
That depends on where your child lives and which schools they would like to share information with. View your state’s deadlines here. But your child shouldn’t wait to apply — colleges often award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. The earlier they submit, the more likely they will be to receive a better financial aid package.
Where Should I Send Completed FAFSA Information?
Even if your child hasn’t decided on a college yet, they should be sure to complete and send FAFSA information to the top 10 colleges they are considering. If they change their mind on schools after they complete it, they can simply log onto the FAFSA website and click the link to “make corrections.” From here, they can replace old schools with their new schools.
What Happens After We Complete the FAFSA?
After completing the FAFSA, your child will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) summarizing the financial data submitted. Be sure they review the SAR for accuracy, and make any changes necessary. The SAR will be sent to the schools they chose. The schools will use it to compile a financial aid package that will include a combination of grants, scholarships, loans and work study jobs that will help your child meet tuition requirements.
Yes, the FAFSA is a complex document, but it is an important part of the financial aid process. Learning how you can help your child fill theirs out correctly could save you thousands. Luckily, your Farm Bureau agent can help with smart budgeting tools and information on tax-advantaged college savings plans. Good luck!