FAFSA: Your Secret Weapon for Obtaining Financial Aid for College


By Staff Writer Published on February 22, 2018

If you’re a potential student looking to finally graduate from college, you may be held back by one factor: money. You instinctively know how important it is to finish what you might have already started, but it’s hard to get around the huge price tag associated with getting your degree.

Most nontraditional college students today deal with several issues. First, they see the obvious benefits of completing a degree. Perhaps this comes in the form of being “passed over” for a promotion or being underpaid for their skillset just because they never had the opportunity to complete college. Of course, there is also a need to obtain the latest schooling for various industries that are constantly changing (consider programmers, digital marketers, etc.).

These needs are often weighed against two possible concerns: lack of time and money. With most advanced degrees offering all or part of their curriculum online or at night, the time issue is not as demanding as it once was. But money is another story. Where does a potential graduate turn when needing to plan for tuition? Setting aside time to earn a degree decreases the time that can be spent earning money to pay for that degree.

It’s a catch-22, but it has a simple answer: federal financial aid. And the key to accessing that financial aid is the FAFSA.

FAFSA Can Help

Simply put, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a handy tool provided for all those who are seeking any kind of student loan. More than just filling out a loan application, FAFSA may help you determine which types of aid you can actually qualify for, and which ones best suit your needs.

Students across the United States can jump online, fill out an application every year (to take into account changing needs) and get real answers that can make getting that once unobtainable degree a reality.

Among other things, the FAFSA tool actually calculates how much money you and your family can put toward your education depending on your financial situation. This is called the “Expected Family Contribution.” Using this as a basis, FAFSA then determines how much financial aid is available to you.

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) helps manage all student financial assistance programs and can help you find the program that’s right for you. The DOE’s Federal Student Aid office is the country’s largest provider of financial aid.

So Many Options. Which Is Right for You?

Did you know that over 13 million students per year receive some form of federal student aid? That’s a staggering number of students who are receiving help to advance their careers and skills. While there are many different options depending on your school and personal situation, most federal aid can be broken down into just three categories:

  • Grants and scholarships: This “free money” typically does not have to be repaid unless the recipient drops out of school. Grants are awarded based on financial need, and scholarships are based on merit. Do you qualify? FAFSA can help determine that.
  • Loans: As with any borrowed money, student loans must be paid back after graduation along with any accrued interest. However, unlike other types of loans, special conditions allow greater flexibility in repayment as well as very favorable interest rates.
  • Work-Study: Work-studies are available at certain schools that participate in the federal program. They offer part-time employment through which students can earn money to pay for school.

Depending on your background and current situation, you may qualify for several different forms of aid, which may provide money to cover just about any expense related to your education such as tuition, room and board, fees, transportation, books, supplies, and more.

How to Get Started

Students should plan on submitting their FAFSA as soon as they are able, because federal aid is limited. Getting started is as easy as getting online. However, before you do, you’ll want to gather some information to help you effectively fill out the form. This includes:

  • Social security number (Note: non-citizens will need an alien registration number)
  • Driver’s license number
  • Federal tax information such as tax returns (including W-2 information)
  • Records of any untaxed income such as child support, veteran’s benefits, interest income, etc.
  • General financial information such as available cash, bank deposits, stocks, bonds, real estate (not including your residence), investments, etc.

Don’t worry—you will not need to mail any of these documents to the student aid office. Having this information on hand simply makes the application process go much smoother.

Where Do I Find FAFSA?

To get started, just head to the FAFSA website. If you have never applied before, you’ll want to obtain an FSA ID which will allow you to sign the form electronically, making the process easier if done before beginning the application.

You’ll also want to check out the student aid website to learn the latest deadline information to ensure your application is timely.

Please know that the FAFSA form includes many questions regarding your family situation, financial status (and that of your spouse and/or parents if applicable), the schools you may attend, etc. The questionnaire will also ask you to address your educational background and plans.

After submitting the application, you will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR) providing more information about how to best proceed. Your SAR will be shared with the colleges you listed on the application as well as the higher education agencies in the states in which those colleges are located. You’ll want to review this report carefully to make sure you didn’t make any mistakes on your application, as this form will be used by your school to help calculate your aid.

We’re Here to Help

That’s all there is to it. Of course, you may have more questions about financial aid programs, grants, or even what types of degrees are available to help advance your career. That’s why we encourage you to visit our “Request Info” link and soon you’ll be on your way to completing your degree and advancing to the next phase of your professional success.