All students applying to college should know about FAFSA. The free form is available by going online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, everyone—rich, poor, or somewhere in between—should plan to fill out a FAFSA application as part of applying to college.
“One of the largest barriers to a higher education is the funding,” according to Janet Fike, director financial aid at West Virginia Northern Community College.
FAFSA is the foundation for all financial aid, and allows students to be considered for federal Pell grants, state grants, Federal Direct student loans, scholarships and work-study programs. These funds can help pay for college tuition as well as books and some fees.
“New students, and especially their parents, are under the misconception that they are not eligible for financial aid because of the family’s income,” Fike said. “Many times this can be a wrong assumption and a reason why a lot of eligible students don’t apply.
“It’s also a misconception that students must have high grades
to qualify,” she says.
Fill out that FAFSA
Fike is quick to point out that filling out the online FAFSA form is relatively simple and certainly not as difficult as you may have heard.
Step by step instructions, including many online videos which offer easy to understand assistance, are available at the FAFSA website. Parents need their current tax returns for a dependent student, and independent students must have tax returns for themselves and their spouse.
While the whole process can turn stomachs into knots, students and parents can usually go to the College’s financial aid office for one-on-one help. And if you complete your family’s tax forms before filling out the FAFSA, you will have your best financial information at hand.
Awards vary by college
Students are awarded financial aid once they’re admitted to a college. If they are admitted to several, each school will receive the FAFSA report, which the college uses to determine a broad range of financial aid options that includes grants, loans, scholarships and work study.