If you’ve decided to go to college as a nontraditional student or as an adult learner then congratulations! It’s never too late to learn and grow. Now that you’ve made this decision, it’s time to think about financial aid – monetary support that helps cover the costs of college such as grants, student loans and scholarships. You might assume that you won’t qualify for financial assistance because you’re a nontraditional student, but there are various financial resources to help you on your college journey. One resource that you should utilize first is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Regardless of your educational background or age, you should always submit a FAFSA every year that you’re in need of financial aid. The FAFSA allows you to apply for federal and some state financial assistance for college. Your school’s financial aid office will use the information you provide on the application to determine your aid eligibility. They will be able to see if you qualify for grants, work-study and/or student loans. In case you haven’t decided which school you’ll attend, the FAFSA can be sent to up to ten schools at one time. Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, be sure to contact the financial aid offices if you have any questions.
Whether this is your first time submitting a FAFSA or it’s been a while since you’ve seen the application, here are a few tips to help you successfully complete the form:
Gather your materials – Before you start the application you’ll need to round up a few necessary items: your social security card, tax returns and other financial information. The FAFSA will ask you to provide your income figures as well as your personal identification information. Your W-2s and other bank statements will be helpful with this section of the FAFSA.
Create an FSA ID – An FSA ID (Federal Student Aid Identification) is your username and password for logging into FAFSA.gov. This login will also serve as your electronic signature for completing the FAFSA. It only takes about ten minutes to create an FSA ID. During the process you will be asked to provide your identification information and select a few challenge questions to answer in case you need to reset your ID at a later date. Use this FSA ID Worksheet to help you keep track of your FSA ID information. To create your FSA ID, go to fsaid.ed.gov.
Use the correct website – FAFSA.gov is the official website to access the FAFSA form. You can also find the application by using the myStudentAid mobile app. The first “f” in FAFSA stands for “free”, meaning you should never be charged a fee to submit your FAFSA. Using one of the above options guarantees that you’ll not have to pay to complete your application.
Remember Oct. 1 – The FAFSA opens each year on Oct. 1. You should complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after this date. Some financial aid that you’re eligible to receive may be on a first-come first-serve basis, concluding that funds will be given to those who apply first and will eventually run out after a certain point. Therefore, to ensure that you don’t miss out on any financial aid, complete your application in a timely manner.
After completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will receive an email with a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is a document that recaps the data you provided on the FAFSA and offers some basic information about your eligibility for federal financial aid. On this SAR, you may read that you’ve been selected for verification. Typically an asterisk appears next to the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number near the upper right corner on the SAR, which indicates your information must be verified.
Verification is a process in which the school’s financial aid office must confirm the information provided on your FAFSA is accurate. About one-third of all students are selected for verification because questions may have been left blank, the data provided is inconsistent, or they’re just randomly chosen. If this happens, don’t worry. The financial aid office at the schools you’ve applied to will contact you and request additional documentation they’ll need to complete the verification process. Be sure to respond promptly and meet all deadlines set by financial aid personnel.
After you submit the requested materials to your school’s aid office, follow up with them to ensure it’s been received. Remember, you must complete the verification process in order to receive any federal or state student aid. If you have questions about the process, contact your school’s financial aid office.
How do I fix an error on my Student Aid Report?
Since most students file their FAFSAs electronically, it’s quick and easy to make your corrections online, as well. On the home page at FAFSA.gov, click ‘Log In’. If you’re making changes to your answers, click ‘I am the student’. If your parents are making a change to their answers, they should click ‘I am a parent’. Your parents can log in using your personally identifiable information, and they’ll also need your Save Key. Don’t let anyone else log in with your FSA ID!
Find the section where the correction(s) will be made. Make your changes, and don’t forget to click the ‘Submit’ button on the last page when you’re done. In a few days, another Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to your inbox. Review it once more to make sure your changes have been made.
If you aren’t able to make a change, notify the financial aid office at your college or university. A financial aid professional will need your Data Release Number (DRN)–a four-digit code found in the top half of your Student Air Report–to access your FAFSA. Don’t give anyone in the financial aid office your FSA ID.
If you encounter any problems while making corrections, call Federal Student Aid (FSA) at 1.800.433.3243.
Completing the FAFSA is just the first step in applying for financial aid. After your application has been processed, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is a summary of all the information you entered on the FAFSA form. Included in the report will be your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a number that helps determine your financial aid eligibility. When you receive the SAR, review it and make any necessary changes. You can make changes by logging into FAFSA.gov, accessing your original FAFSA application, and correcting your information. Don’t forget to resign and submit! Once you’ve updated your FAFSA, your SAR will be sent to the schools that were listed on your application. If you’re selected for verification, schools will ask you to provide more documentation to confirm that you reported the correct information. Be sure to submit documents as soon as possible to the financial aid office.
Colleges and universities will eventually send you award letters, notifying you of the amount of financial aid they’re able to offer you. Most award letters will be sent electronically, while a few others might come in the mail. Ask your campuses or choice how their notifications will be sent. The award letters will also tell you the cost of attendance. Carefully review those letters and only accept the aid you need. Always accept free money first: grants and scholarships. If you need to take out a student loan, only accept the amount you need to cover the cost of attendance. Be sure to compare different schools’ award letters as well. Consider the financial aid packages and the campus environment to decide which would be the best fit for you.
Follow up with every campus you received an award letter from and let them know how much of the financial aid package you would like to accept. Check for deadlines! Each award letter will ask you to respond by a certain date or you could lose the aid offered. Remain in constant contact with the financial aid office to make sure you take all necessary steps to secure your financial aid award.
So you’ve completed, signed and submitted the FAFSA, now what? It’s time to follow up!
Keep an eye on your email for something called a Student Aid Report (SAR) as well as information from the schools to which you chose to send your FAFSA results.
Your SAR will provide you with some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid. When you receive your SAR carefully review it and make sure your information is listed correctly. If you find a mistake, you will need to correct and resubmit your FAFSA.
Some schools may ask for more information, so be sure to provide any additional documentation they may require. Follow up with the school’s financial aid office if you have questions.
Perhaps you’ve had a change in circumstances since you submitted the FAFSA, or you’ve discovered that even with the help of FAFSA.gov’s built-in fact checker your FAFSA contains an error. Here are some of the most common pieces of information to be updated or corrected:
- Your marital status
- Your parents’ marital status
- The death of a parent or sibling
- Employment status
- Major medical expenses
- Social Security numbers
- Parents’/stepparents’ income
- Untaxed income
- Income taxes paid
- Household size
- Number of household members in college
- Real estate and investment net worth
So, what happens if you’ve made a mistake? If necessary, corrections to FAFSA data may be made by:
- Visiting FAFSA.gov and accessing your data with your FSA ID.
- Requesting changes through the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend. (you’ll need your Data Release Number, or DRN.)
- Submitting documentation to the college’s financial aid office.
If you used last year’s tax information as an estimate when filing the FAFSA, it is also required that you make the correction once you’ve filed 2015 taxes.
The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a paper or electronic document that gives you some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid and lists your answers to the questions on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
After you complete your FAFSA, you should receive your SAR from Federal Student Aid. This document will be sent to the email address you supplied on your FAFSA, usually within a few days after you submit the FAFSA. If you haven’t seen it in your inbox by then, be sure to check your spam or junk mail folders. The schools you list on your FAFSA will receive your SAR data electronically and begin the process of outlining your award package, which will include the types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible to receive.
The SAR contains all data reported on your FAFSA. Read your SAR carefully to make sure all of your information is correct. Most errors can be fixed through your FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov. If there is an error in a field you can’t access, call the Federal Student Aid hotline at 1.800.4 FED AID (1.800.433.3243), or send your question to FederalStudentAidCustomerService@ed.gov.
Your SAR will also tell you if your FAFSA has been selected for verification. If it has, you’ll be given instructions about what to do next. Supplying the information required for verification is mandatory. You can’t receive federal financial aid until the verification process is complete.
Reading your SAR lets you know what’s going on with your financial aid application before you visit a financial aid office. It can help you prepare for your visit by having any necessary documents with you when you arrive. This will save time and reduce the number of visits you’ll have to make to the financial aid office. That’s a win-win situation for everyone!
As the end of the year approaches, it’s time to start thinking about status changes that could affect your eligibility for financial aid when you renew your FAFSA for the 2016-17 school year.
- How old are you? If you were a dependent student this year but you were born before January 1, 1993, you’ll be considered an independent student on your next FAFSA. That means you’ll only need to include your own income (and your spouse’s, if you’re married) on the application. You’ll no longer have to report your parents’ income.
- Has your marital status changed? If you married or divorced this year, your financial aid eligibility could be affected next year. Dependent students may also be affected if their parents’ marital status changed in 2015. Be sure to discuss this with a financial aid officer at your college.
- Do you have a dependent child on the way? If so, you may be able to include your future “mini-me” in your household size, which might increase the amount of Pell grant and other need-based aid you’re eligible to receive. In order to include a new dependent on your FAFSA next year, he or she must live with you and receive more than half of his or her support from you through June 30, 2017.
There are many factors that can change your eligibility for federal and state financial aid from year to year. For more details, talk to someone in your financial aid office, or visit studentaid.ed.gov.
The FAFSA asks you to provide information about your family and their income. What if something has happened that now makes the data you submitted incorrect? You may need to update your FAFSA if any of the following have changed:
- You got married
- Your parents got divorced
- Your parent or sibling died
- You or your parent lost a job
- Your family incurred major medical expenses
Other changes, such as sending your FAFSA results to a different college or making revisions to your income tax paid, can be easily corrected online at FAFSA.gov. The items mentioned above, however, should be discussed with your financial aid administrator. Additional documentation may be required before certain questions on your FAFSA can be changed.
If you have questions, talk to your school’s financial aid office. They’re your best resource throughout the entire financial aid process.
If you complete and submit your FAFSA online each year, the system will double check your entries against your information from previous years and it will offer you helpful information along the way. However, even with the advantages of online completion, you may find that your FAFSA contains an error, or you may need to update your tax information.
To correct an error or update your FAFSA online, visit FAFSA.gov and enter your login information. Then, on the My FAFSA page, click “Make FAFSA Corrections.” After you’ve finished your corrections, don’t forget to click submit.
Once you resubmit your application and receive a confirmation number, the correction will be processed in 3-5 days. You cannot submit a second correction until the first one is processed and a Student Aid Report (SAR) is generated, so try to make all of your corrections at once to avoid a processing delay.