Mother and daughter learning how the financial aid process worksFor high school seniors, the time is quickly approaching to get your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) filled out and submitted to the college(s) you’re thinking of attending next year. Yep, you read that correctly…you’re submitting the FAFSA almost a year before starting college! October 1, 2022, is the first day you’re able to complete a FAFSA for the 2023-24 academic year.

In this blog, I’ll provide a quick overview of the steps you need to take to prepare for the FAFSA and how the financial aid process works.

How to get started

Before you complete the FAFSA, create an account at StudentAid.gov. This is a unique username and password that is tied to your name, date of birth, and Social Security number, so it’s very important that you write it down and keep it in a safe place! You will have to set up Two-Factor Authentication, which will require you to verify your cell phone number and e-mail address or use an authenticator app during this process. Make sure you use a personal e-mail address and not your school address! In addition, one of your custodial parents will also have to create an account.

Your usernames and passwords are used for various reasons:

  • Logging into the FAFSA
  • Loading parent and student’s tax information onto the FAFSA directly from the IRS
  • Signing the FAFSA for both parent and student so it can be submitted electronically
  • Completing the student and/or parent PLUS loan process, if needed
  • Keeping track of loan information

What is the FAFSA and when can I fill it out?

The FAFSA is a FREE form that students fill out and submit to be considered for federal, state and college-based financial aid. The FAFSA opens on October 1, 2022, at studentaid.gov. It’s always best to get the FAFSA completed as soon as possible to be considered for the best financial aid offer you qualify to receive. 

What information will be requested?

Use this checklist for a thorough listing of information you’ll need, to complete the FAFSA. The form will ask about income, assets, household size, and the number that will be in college. All of this information is important so read through the checklist carefully!

What if our financial situation has changed?

The FAFSA asks for tax information from two years ago. If your situation has changed due to the loss of a job, a parent has passed away, excessive medical expenses, etc., we encourage you to do the following:

  • Complete and submit the FAFSA as directed. You must report your 2021 tax information as it was reported to the IRS…you cannot alter it in any way!
  • Contact the Financial Aid office(s) at all the colleges you listed on the FAFSA. Explain your situation and the college may be able to adjust the FAFSA results after they request and review your current tax documents.

How will I know my FAFSA is being processed?

You will receive an email from Federal Student Aid 3-5 days after submitting the FAFSA. This email confirms that your information was passed from the Federal Processing Center to the college(s) you listed on your FAFSA. The email will include a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR), which will indicate if you are PELL grant eligible and if you were selected for a process called verification. The SAR is also important as a copy of it may be requested for some need-based scholarships.

What is verification?

Verification is a review process done by the college to verify that the information reported on the FAFSA is accurate.  Students need to watch their e-mail and college portals carefully for any requests from the college’s Financial Aid office. The college may request additional documentation of some of your FAFSA information.  Respond ASAP as colleges will not award financial aid until the verification process is completed.  If you are selected for verification, don’t panic! It’s a simple process to complete and doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong when filing your FAFSA.

When can I expect financial aid offers?

Each college you listed on the FAFSA will send you a Financial Aid offer, if the college accepted you for admission. The offer will be sent to your email address or posted on your student portal, so make sure you’re watching those communication avenues closely! The Financial Aid Offer will indicate the types and amounts of aid you’re eligible for, which can include institutional scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal loans.

If you’ve applied to more than one college be sure to compare your Financial Aid Offers to see which institution presented the best package. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much did each college offer in scholarships and grants (which is money that does not have to be repaid)?
  • What will my “out-of-pocket” expenses be?
  • Will I have to take out federal loans and if so, how much?

Where can I go for help?

You have a number of resources available to learn more about financial aid and how the process works. Check out our website at EducationQquest.org for upcoming statewide Financial Aid presentations and Livestreams, and to get signed up for Countdown2College monthly emails. Also, follow us on social media for up-to-date information, and schedule an appointment with EducationQuest for FREE help!

By Jacquie Butler