You worked your butt off through high school. You studied for every test, turned in every extra credit assignment, and even got yourself an online tutor. So, you deserve to go to the college of your dreams. The only problem: College isn't cheap.
Maybe your family can't afford to help you pay for your dream school. And maybe you're looking at the cost of college, thinking about the loans you'll have to repay, and wondering if it's worth it. Let us assure you, it is.
According to the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, people in their 20s who have a bachelor's degree earn 47% more than people who only have a high school degree. During their lifetime, people with a bachelor's degree earn 73% more. And college grads are 3.5 times less likely to live in poverty.
So, if you want to set yourself up for a more comfortable future, the best decision you can make is to attend college — even if that means taking out student loans. And the first type of loan you should apply for is a federal student loan. Federal student loans have a lower interest rate than private student loans. And you don't need to start repaying federal loans until six months after you graduate, which gives you time to find a job.
To qualify for student loans, you'll need to apply by filling out the FAFSA.
What Is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is how you apply for student loans and other types of federal financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education uses this application to determine how much and what types of aid you qualify for. This application process isn't a one-and-done scenario. You will need to reapply each year you're in college until you complete your degree.
Your answers to the FAFSA questions will make up your Student Aid Report (SAR).
The college you choose will use the information on your SAR to come up with your financial aid package. Depending on your financial need, your FAFSA could qualify you for federal student loans and a variety of other financial support.
What Kind of Aid Can You Qualify For?
The federal government offers six types of financial support:
- Grants: This type of financial aid often comes with strings attached. You may have to work on a research assignment, teaching assignment, or round of military service. But, you won't have to pay back the money you receive from your grant.
- Scholarships: This is another financial aid award you don't need to repay. But, you do need to qualify. Depending on the scholarship, you may need to show financial need, academic merit, or talent in a specific field.
- Work-study jobs: If the university you attend is involved in the federal work-study program, it will offer work-study jobs that you can apply for. When you do a work-study, you can work part-time and use your income to cover part of your college expenses.
- Loans: This is money you borrow then repay after you finish college.
- Aid for military families: If you, your spouse, or one of your parents has served in the military, you may qualify for additional aid.
- Aid for international study: This type of aid allows you to study abroad, either for one semester or for your entire four-year program.
Your university may also offer its own financial support programs, including grants and scholarships you won't have to repay. Check with your university's financial aid office to learn about the options and requirements. You might have to fill out separate application forms for each opportunity. But, many university aid applications will require the same documents as the FAFSA and ask questions similar to the FAFSA questions.
What Information Do You Need Before You Apply?
Your application will go more smoothly if you get a few documents together before you sit down to apply. If you're applying as an independent student or an emancipated minor, you'll only need information about yourself.
However, if your parents or step-parents will help you through college (and claim you as a dependent on their tax returns), you'll need to apply as a dependent student. In which case, you'll need all this information for your parents and step-parents too.
Here are the documents you need:
- Your Social Security number
- Your driver's license
- Your Alien Registration Number if you're not a U.S. citizen (Yes, some non-citizens still qualify for federal financial aid. Check if you're eligible.)
- Your federal tax information (aka your tax returns)
- Records of your untaxed income from child support, interest, veteran non-education benefits, or other sources
- Financial information for your assets, including cash, stocks, bonds, real estate (not counting the house you live in), business assets, and farm assets
Once you have this information in hand, you're ready to start answering the FAFSA questions.
What FAFSA Questions Appear on the Financial Aid Application?
When you complete your FAFSA application for the first time, you'll have to answer questions in five categories: your basic personal information, colleges or career schools, dependency status, parents' information, and financial information.
Basic Personal Information
This is the easy part: Enter your full name, social security number, date of birth, and driver's license number. That's it! You can move on and enter your schools.
Colleges and Career Schools
You don't need to know which school you're going to attend when you fill out the FAFSA, but you do need to know which schools you're applying to. You have to enter information for at least one school to qualify for financial aid. You can list up to 10 schools when you apply online or through the app. If you apply with the printed FAFSA form, you can list up to four schools.
The schools you list in this section will automatically receive an electronic version of your FAFSA application. Their financial aid office will use it to determine your financial need.
The questions in this section will help you determine whether you need to apply for federal student aid as a dependent student or an independent student. If you're considered a dependent student, you'll need to provide your parents' personal and financial information in the next sections.
In this section, you'll provide your parents' personal information, including their full names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and drivers' license numbers.
Depending on your parents' marital status, you may also have to provide information on your step-parents. If you have a step-parent who is still married to one of your parents, you'll need to provide their personal information here and their financial information in the next section of FAFSA questions.
This is the most complex section of the application. If you apply as an independent student, you will only need to provide your financial information. But, if you apply as a dependent student, you'll also need your parents' information.
In this section, you'll need to provide the information from your income tax return from the previous year. The IRS data retrieval tool can make this process easier. Use it to automatically add your tax information, including your adjusted gross income from the prior year.
This section is also where you'll report the balances in your and your parents' checking accounts and savings accounts. And you'll enter information on any other financial assets. (This is where the stocks, bonds, and real estate mentioned above comes into play.)
Once you've entered your financial information, you're done. All that's left is to sign and submit your FAFSA form.
Where Can You Provide Your Answers to the FAFSA Questions?
You can answer the FAFSA questions and submit your application by going to the federal student aid website or using the myStudentAid Mobile App for Apple or Android. You can also request a printed version of the FAFSA form by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at their telephone number, 1-800-4-FED-AID.
Apply for Federal Financial Aid and Get Ready for College
Now that you know what to expect from your FAFSA application, you're ready to apply. Check the FAFSA deadline for the upcoming school year. Make sure to fill out your FAFSA form before the deadline so you can get the financial help you need to bring your dream school within reach.
Once you're a college student, all the stress of FAFSA questions and college applications will melt away, and you can move on to more important things — like studying for exams. Remember that wherever your studies take you, TutorMe is here to help with qualified tutors who can make everything from calculus to college writing easier to understand.