The FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is due on June 30, 2021 at 11:59 PM Central Time. Here’s why everyone (including you) should fill it out.
Why should you fill out the FAFSA?
To qualify for financial aid! Even if you think you may not make the cut, you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. And even if you do not qualify for financial aid, you will want to fill out your FAFSA in order to qualify for a federal student loan or parent loan (we highly recommend these over privatized student loans, where the interest rates and financial terminology can get very tricky very quickly.)
Because federal student loans are backed by the government, they historically have better terms than private student loans (meaning lower interest rates and better repayment options due to their higher levels of regulation.) This means it will be easier for you to pay off your loans. (If you need help understanding the different types of student loans, check out this article.) The best thing about federal student loans is that you can qualify for an subsidized loan, which doesn’t accrue interest until after graduation. This way, you won’t need to worry about accruing interest on your student debt on the walk to Biology 101. This can make a huge difference in the out-of-pocket costs in the long run.
At some schools, students who haven’t filled out a FAFSA will not qualify for merit-based aid (aid based on academic achievement.) This is to ensure that merit-based dollars only go to students who have exhausted their need-based options.
What You Need to Get Started
You can start the process by heading over to the Federal Student Aid website. They also made an app (OK boomer, I see you!) to make the process more accessible for tech-native Gen Z students. The myStudentAid app is available for download on all iOS and Android devices.
- A FSA (Federal Student Aid) Account
- Your Social Security Number
If you are filing as a dependent (under the age of 24, not emancipated or married), then you will also need your parent(s)’ social security numbers as well. If you are not a U.S. citizen and don’t have a social security number, then you will need an Alien Registration Number.
- Your Driver’s License Number
If you don’t have one, don’t worry about it.
- Your / Your Parents’ 2020 Tax Returns
Remember: your financial aid changes year-to-year. If the pandemic adversely affected your household’s financial situation (i.e. parent lost a job), then you will be able to qualify for more aid.
- Your Liquid and Non-Liquid Assets
This includes the current balance in your checking and savings accounts, as well as the equivalent value that your household owns in stocks and bonds.
- Schools You Are Interested In
You can add up to 10 universities on your FAFSA. If you are applying for more than 10 schools, then you will have to call the office and have them add the colleges for you (Note: you can also electronically replace up to 4 schools once your Student Aid Report, or SAR, has been generated.) The order of the schools might matter, depending on the state you live in and whether you are applying for a state school. You can check the requirements for your state here.
After you complete your FAFSA…
You should be checking your email and student portal regularly (every week) to see if they are requesting any follow-up documentation they need to process your aid.
If you are unhappy with your financial aid package…
APPEAL! Remember that colleges do not expect every student to submit an appeal, and that they do not allocate all financial aid dollars right away. You will want to write a letter to the financial aid office explaining that while you are appreciative of the aid they’ve offered, you would like to ask for a “reconsideration” (never a negotiation) of your aid package, considering your financial circumstances. Perhaps a stream of income was lost/reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or an elder member of your family has recently moved into your home, adding increased financial strain. Remember that financial aid officers are people too. And while they may work with limited resources, if you tell them an impactful story, they could become your child’s ally.