Everything You Need to Know About Financial Aid

If you have any questions about financial aid, this is the place to be. We’ve created a not-so-short list for the most important things you need to know about financial aid. If you have additional questions, please feel free to connect with us or check out the resources shared in this post.

October 1 is the first day families can access, complete, and submit the 2021-2022 FAFSA and CSS Profile. Anyone logging in sooner will be completing forms for the wrong school year.

  1. The month of September is your time to begin gathering paperwork and financial aid deadlines as a family. Missing a financial aid deadline can seriously jeopardize your child’s eligibility for aid.
  2. For current seniors and transfers applying to college for the 2021-2022 school year, your family’s 2019 take returns will be required. Be sure these have already been submitted and processed.
  3. It is your child’s FAFSA and CSS Profile, not yours. Though often parents complete these forms on their child’s behalf.
  4. It is best for your child to begin the process by creating his/her Federal Student Aid ID. This is their digital fingerprint associated with their name and email address. Here is where they should go to create their FSA ID: fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm
  5. Anyone else who expects access to your child’s FAFSA must create their own FSA ID as well. But these can only be created after your child has created their ID first. If your child is less than 18-years old, you will need to cosign the FAFSA and will therefore require your own FSA ID as the co-signer.
  6. After your child has created their FSA ID, their FAFSA can be started here.
  7. About 150 institutions also require the CSS Profile. The list of institutions is here, but it is always best to verify with the institution itself the documents they require it.
  8. Often within a few hours of submitting the FAFSA, your child will receive an email that it has been successfully processed. Within a few days after that, your child will receive another email containing instructions on how to access their Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR contains a crucially important number-their Expected Family Contribution (EFC). As parents overseeing the process you should tell your child to forward all Department of Education emails to them, which may also include requests for further verification and documentation.
  9. When beginning the FAFSA, the best practice is to select the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). This will automatically populate many of the FAFSA’s questions directly from the federal tax returns, making completion much simpler. Under recent Department of Education guidelines, these populated fields are shielded from the filer, though the financial aid offices will be able to view the numbers. If the DRT is not selected, financial aid offices will most likely request further verification from the filer that the numbers they have entered actually agree with their tax returns. 
  10. In certain circumstances, a filer will be ineligible to select the DRT. Here are the rules.
  11. In cases of separation, divorce, and non-traditional families, it may be unclear who should be listed as the parent on the FAFSA. Here are the rules.
  12. Many colleges will ask on the college application if your child expects to apply for need-based aid. It is important that the answer be accurate and truthful. If your child selects “no” and the college receives the FAFSA (and CSS Profile), one of three things may happen: 1) the college contacts your child to clarify whether or not they’re actually applying for need-based aid, inconveniencing an already overworked financial aid office; 2) the college doesn’t contact your child and processes the forms assuming he/she  is applying for need-based aid; 3) the college doesn’t contact your child and assumes he/sh is not applying for need-based aid. Your child would still be eligible for federal aid (typically student loans and Pell Grants), but may be ineligible for institutional grants, typically the largest source of need-based aid. So it’s best to answer this question accurately the first time and not play games.
  13. Since these forms are typically submitted once, listing all colleges, it is crucial that they are submitted before the earliest financial aid deadline. If a student is applying in the early decision or early action round, that could be as soon as November 1.
  14. A few institutions require the FAFSA, and possibly the CSS Profile as well, to be considered for merit aid. There is no trusted or curated list of these schools. It is your child’s responsibility to learn from the school’s website or directly from the admission office if they require any additional forms for merit aid consideration.
  15. If your family does not want to apply for need-based aid but does want to make use of the federal student loan program, the FAFSA will need to be submitted. Our recommendation for you is to check “no” on the college application asking if your child expects to apply for need-based aid, to deposit at the school of your child’s choice by May 1, and then to submit the FAFSA letting the financial aid office know that it was submitted for the purpose of federal student loans only. This way, there is no confusion over whether your child is, or is not, applying for need-based aid.
  16. For those families who are applying for need-based financial aid, the annual limit of federal student loans is usually included in the financial aid award, though a few schools have replaced these with additional institutional grants. For dependent undergraduate students, these limits are $5,500 for freshmen, $6,500 for sophomores, $7,500 for juniors, and $7,500 for seniors. For those taking longer than four years, this $27,000 4-year total undergraduate loan limit is increased to $31,000. For those borrowing for the current school year, the interest rate is 2.75% and fee about 1%, making this the first loan program to go to for those who want to borrow. 

Now is the time to get all of your documents ready for the October 1st launch of the FAFSA. We hope this post is helpful as you approach the financial aid process. If you have additional questions about this process or the college admissions process, please connect with us!

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