What Families Need to Know about Applying for Federal Student Aid

Now is the time for families to fill out the FAFSA for their college-bound students

By Laurie Ritrosky, publisher of Macaroni Kid Westfield-Southwick, Mass. October 30, 2019

Have a teen planning on college in the fall of 2020? Or even just thinking about going? One of the most important things you can do to help your student on the path to college is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA is a form, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, that helps students qualify for loans and student aid.

Here are four frequently asked questions about FAFSA:

When do I fill it out?

The 2020-21 FAFSA form is available now and the U.S. Department of Education urges families to submit it as soon as possible because schools and states have limited funds available and many award funds on a first-come, first-served basis.

The federal deadline to fill out the form is June 30, 2021, but each state has a different deadline to fill out the FAFSA, and some colleges and universities have their own deadlines. Check here for state deadlines. Check with the schools for their individual deadlines.

Why is it important? 

The FAFSA determines your child's eligibility for student financial aid. There is no cost to fill it out, so there's no excuse not to do it. In fact, if you don't fill it out, you could be throwing free money out the window. Even if you think your family makes too much money to qualify, still fill out the form. Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid. Even students who might not be eligible for need-based aid may still be eligible for another type of scholarship.

What will I need to complete it?

While there are "agents" or businesses who will offer to complete your FAFSA for a fee, it is really is not complicated and you can do it yourself. It can be helpful to attend a free workshop or information session, which you can often find at your local school or library. 

It makes it easier to complete the FAFSA if you have the right information on hand. Here is what you will need:

  • A Federal Student Aid ID for both you and your child. Get yours here. Note that you may not get an ID for anyone other than yourself. That means you and your child each need your own FSA ID.
  • Social security numbers for parents and a dependent student.
  • The student's driver license number.
  • Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen.
  • 2018 tax records for parents and a dependent child.
  • Records of any untaxed income for both parents and student.
  • Records of assets, like checking and savings account information for both parents and student.
  • A complete list of schools your child is interested in attending.

What happens next?

Within a couple of weeks of filling out the FAFSA, you will get something called an Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. Despite its name, it does not mean that this what you will have to pay out of pocket. This is simply the figure that schools use to determine what grants or scholarships your child might be eligible for and what the government uses to give out federal grants and loans.

Each school that you identified on the FAFSA as being of interest will send your child a financial aid package outlining any grants, scholarships, and/or loans they will offer your family.

Need more help in filling out the form? Visit the FAFSA Help page.

Laurie Ritrosky is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Westfield-Southwick, Mass.