Parents Corner: What You Need to Know About FAFSA

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If you’re like many families with a high school graduate exploring their college options, the high price tag of college can be stressful and discouraging. Help your child pursue financial aid, starting with FAFSA. Filing FAFSA can help mitigate the overwhelming costs of college tuition and fees—and subsequently reduce the burden of steep student loan debt. Here’s an overview for what you need to know.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is like a ticket to federal money and scholarships to help pay for college. Filling out and submitting the form serves as an application for federal grants, loans and work-study funds to financially support your student’s college education.

FAFSA is also a requirement for many colleges. Colleges may use it to help determine students who are eligible to receive financial aid packages based on need or merit. For example, at Grand Canyon University, information contained in the FAFSA helps determine eligibility for institutional scholarships and grants, including financial aid. (Reminder, enter GCU’s school code “001074” on the FAFSA.)

Why is FAFSA Important?

Student debt averages near $30,000 per student, which can be a major financial setback for a graduate entering adult life and seeking an entry-level job. Completing this government form is an opportunity to help streamline the college financial aid process, qualify for assistance and reduce the burden of student loan debt post-graduation.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, FAFSA provides more than $150 billion in student aid annually. Can your student afford to be excluded from this group of recipients?

Who Qualifies for FAFSA?

Your student must be a U.S. citizen and have a high school diploma or GED. You can estimate the amount of financial aid your student may be eligible for by taking the cost of your school’s attendance for your student and subtracting your expected family contribution (EFC) (determined by FAFSA). The total is the amount of financial aid your student needs and may receive.

Remember, your FAFSA-calculated EFC amount may not be exactly what your family has to pay for college. Colleges use different calculations to determine financial aid. The amount needed to pay may be less, and amount needed isn’t guaranteed to be provided.

Why Should You Fill Out FAFSA?

Many students don’t bother to fill out FAFSA because it’s more than 100 questions; it’s a time-consuming and complex process to complete. Other students avoid FAFSA because they believe their parents make too much money or they won’t quality because of academic performance. Federal Student Aid encourages all students to apply to FAFSA. Check out these common misconceptions about financial aid.

Remember, most universities require a FAFSA form on file in order to award a student either need-based or merit-based financial aid. Your student may quality to receive financial aid that’s based strictly on merit, such as academic achievement, ACT/SAT scores and athletics (not financial need). But you must complete the FAFSA form.

Time Money’s College Planner also offers this financial tip for families: “filing a FAFSA automatically qualifies you for low-cost federal student loans of at least $5,500 a year.”

What are the FAFSA Changes for 2016?

In September 2015, President Obama instated the following significant changes to FAFSA:

  • Early FAFSA Submission: Starting in 2016 for the 2017-18 academic year, students may submit a FAFSA form as early as Oct. 1, 2016, rather than beginning on Jan. 1. Students still have to submit the FAFSA starting Jan. 1 for the 2016-17 academic year.
  • Earlier Income Information: Applicants will report income information from an earlier tax year, beginning with the 2017-18 FAFSA. For the 2017-18 FAFSA, report 2015 tax information, instead of 2016 tax information.

See the Federal Student Aid’s announcement FAFSA Changes for 2017–18 for a summary of key dates and fact sheets for students and the general public.

Quick FAFSA Tips

  • Visit FAFSA: Applying for Aid at the Federal of Student Aid for when and how to apply to FAFSA, including important deadlines and other details about the process.
  • Use the FAFSA4castor calculator on the Department of Education website to find an estimate of your financial aid.
  • Pay attention to “which assets are countable.” Your student could lose money by incorrectly including assets that should be uncounted.
  • File online for a faster and easier process.
  • The priority processing deadline for the FAFSA for the 2016-17 academic year is June 30, 2017. The first day you are able to apply is Jan. 1, 2016. The earlier you file, the more options for aid are available to your student. Keep in mind, certain states dispense funds to eligible applicants on a first-come, first-served basis until money runs out.
  • Refer to this comprehensive guide to college financial aid by Forbes for further insights, tips and a clear understanding of the college financial aid system.

To learn more about tuition and financing at GCU, visit our website or contact us today by pushing the Request More Information button at the top of the page!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.