Maximizing college financial aid can be as simple as filling out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only way to apply for financial aid through the federal government. Unfortunately, it’s all-too-often not completed by parents and students across the country.
The FAFSA will evaluate your financial situation and will be shared with the school(s) of your choosing. Universities and colleges use the information included on the FAFSA to determine your eligibility as a student for not only government-funded financial aid like Federal Pell Grants—free money—but also loans and need-based scholarships from school funds.
What’s more, filling out the FAFSA is free, and according to the Department of Education, $150 billion in financial aid is given to more than 50 million students every year. So there’s much money to be awarded in the form of grants, loans, and other options.
The FAFSA form, which will include questions for parents and students regarding legal residence, tax filing status, income, educational plans and more, requires a few personal documents to determine financial need:
- Social Security Number (Alien Registration Number if not a U.S. Citizen)
- Most recent W-2s, federal income tax returns and other records of money earned
- If applicable, records of untaxed income
- If applicable, bank statements and records of investments
- The Federal School Code of at least one college that you would like to receive your FAFSA information. Up to 10 colleges can be listed here.
Using the information provided, the FAFSA will calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC, which measures your family’s financial strength, is the most significant factor in determining a student’s need-based financial aid awards.
Students who have the greatest need for financial aid will have an EFC of 0.
The student’s EFC and FAFSA information will be shared with listed schools so their financial aid departments can determine the Financial Need of a student. The Financial Need is the difference between your school’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Not only will the amount of money a student is awarded depend on this Financial Need equation, it will also take into account his or her enrollment status as a student.
The only way to be awarded this federal financial aid through a participating school is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.