There is much talk about the "FAFSA" these days. This is a form that helps many to get a considerable amount of financial aid for college, so I will discuss what it is all about.
The FAFSA, aka the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that college students (and anticipating college students, such as a high school senior) and their parents must fill out to determine their eligibility for federal student financial aid. This financial aid can be in the form of grants, loans, and also work-study programs. Schools will also often use this to determine if you are financially deserving of any scholarships they may have available. The form must be filled out annually in order to determine whether a student is eligible for aid each year. Students/parents must do this annually in order to account for changes in income affecting their eligibility. For example, if a parent gets a pay raise from $50,000 per year to $1,000,000 per year the government will most likely no longer see the family as being financially needy.
The FAFSA contains a lengthy questionnaire about a student's and their parent's finances; these answers are entered into a formula that determines their Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or how much the family is expected to pay on their own for college after financial aid. Factors that determine one's EFC include family size, income, number of children they have in college, and assets (i.e. homes, investments, etc...retirement and 401k are not included). Such information is required as there is an expectation that parents will contribute to their child's education, whether or not they actually do.
In order to be eligible for any federal aid (loans, grants, etc.), and often awards offered through your college and other programs, you must fill out the FAFSA form! This is how colleges and many financial aid programs (almost always the case for government) determine if you have the financial "need". Unless you fill this out, you will be rejected from scholarships that are "need-based" and will not be able to get many loans that can ease the high costs of college.
General requirements for to be eligible for federal aid:
-U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen
-Valid Social Security Number
-High school diploma or GED (once you are in college)
-Must register with the selective service (if you are a male aged 18-25)
-Complete the FAFSA form; promise to use federal aid only for educational purposes
-Do not owe refunds on any federal student grants
-Haven't been found guilty for possession/sale of illegal drugs during period that received federal aid.
-Not in default on any student loans
-And of course...not be filthy rich!
One important thing to remember is to fill out everything on the form correctly! If you don't this can slow the application process, and you will most likely have to fill it out all over again. And trust me, you do not want to do that; it took me hours to fill this thing out once! The FAFSA is a rather long form, so grab a cold drink be prepared to sit at your desk for awhile :)
Later on after you submit this form, you will hear back on what your expected family contribution will be. The amount that you are determined to be eligible for in aid could be given in anything from loans, to grants/scholarships, to work-study. Obviously, the grants and scholarships are the best thing to receive.
I will say it again, make sure that you fill out this form! Even if you don't think you are eligible for any federal aid, you might be surprised. I was expecting to receive aid from this anyways, but the amount that my family received still turned out to be a pleasant surprise. My daughter was offered a Cal Grant that covered her full tuition during her first year at UCSD, as well as several scholarships later on from UCSD as a result of our need (which filling out the form determined). She has also taken advantage of several low-interest student loans that we were only offered because of the FAFSA. A few of mycolleagues did not think they would receive anything going in, but after filling out the form their kids turned out to be eligible for thousands of dollars each (in forms including low-interest loans, work study, and even a school grant for one of them)! Like with applying for scholarships, it pays to take the time to fill out your FAFSA.
Here is a useful link on filling out the FAFSA:
http://www.fafsaonline.com/fafsa-form General guide to filling out the FAFSA and the questions that you will be asked
Filling out this form is certainly a tedious process, but taking the time to do it will definitely pay off. Good luck!
Visit my useful blog on financing a college education:
-Tips and reviews on financial aid programs that will help you in paying for college: http://affording-college.blogspot.com