FAFSA Guide

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help Christian students find grants, subsidized loans, work-study funds, and other federal student aid. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) administers the FAFSA and oversees most of the related federal aid programs. Besides federal aid, the FAFSA is also key to securing many private grants and scholarships. Grants are blocks of money given by a donor to help a student pay for college, and students do not have to pay them back. Student loans; however, must be repaid with interest. To help defray the cost of loans, students may qualify for federal subsidies that cover interest payments while the student is in school. Scholarships are typically merit-based aid, and students do not have to repay them.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help Christian students find grants, subsidized loans, work-study funds, and other federal student aid.

Some states and even local government agencies also offer financial aid to eligible students. While each state's aid packages and requirements are different, almost all need to evaluate a complete FAFSA in order to determine a student's eligibility. Colleges also use the FAFSA when allocating work-study jobs, scholarships, and other institutional aid. Federal student aid has existed since 1965, and this year, more than $120 billion dollars of public funding will go to help students pay for higher education. The FAFSA is the door to the largest amount of funding available for students.

FAFSA for Christian Colleges

Attending a Christian college can be a rewarding, though sometimes an expensive educational undertaking, but many forms of public and private financial aid are available to Christian college students through the FAFSA. To take advantage of federal grants, subsidized loans, and work-study programs, students must complete the FAFSA. Many scholarship providers, college aid offices, and private grants also require the FAFSA when determining financial aid packages. Filling out the FAFSA for Christian colleges is no different than completing it for a public or secular institution.

Although the FAFSA is a single form, you can use it to apply for most federally funded programs, including grants, loans, and work-study programs. Federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, are funds given toward student education, and recipients do not need to pay them back. Student loans must be repaid with interest, like any other loans. The advantage of federal student loans is that they tend to carry lower interest rates than private loans. They also include deferred payment options and tailored repayment plans. Sometimes, the U.S. government completely forgives student loans if a recipient meets the qualifications set forth in the loan agreements. The interest on student loans can be tax deductible. Both student loans and grants must be used for educational purposes such as tuition, supplies, and room and board.

The advantage of federal student loans is that they tend to carry lower interest rates than private loans.

A third federal funding option is work study. Students who participate in this part-time work program earn a wage while going to school. When calculating financial aid packages, the ED considers many variables, including assets, current year of study, total family income, cost of attendance, and expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC refers to the amount that an applicant's family is reasonably expected to pay toward the cost of higher education.

The U.S. government has determined applicant eligibility requirements for receiving student aid, but it reserves the right to create case-by-case exceptions. In general, applicants must be U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens who have completed high school and hold a valid Social Security number. Male applicants who are not serving in active duty must register with Selective Service. FAFSA applicants do not need to meet a minimum GPA but must maintain an acceptable scholastic record in college. To receive federal student aid funds, students have to enroll or receive acceptance to a a degree or certificate program. If a student is convicted of a drug-related offense while receiving federal aid, the U.S. government may suspend that student's funds.

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

The FAFSA becomes available on October 1. Applicants should submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after that date. Applicants for state aid should check with their individual states about specific deadlines. Many states say you should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1, but others may have hard-and-fast deadlines. Most agencies award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, increasing the urgency for early submission. Besides, asset measurements change with time. Stock prices, retirement accounts, current debts, and other assets can fluctuate in value. By completing the form early, applicants can increase their chances of securing the best aid package for them.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

The FAFSA requires extensive information, including details about assets, taxes, and income. To complete the FAFSA quickly and accurately, it's a good idea to gather this information in advance. You first need an FSA ID, which you can create online. The FSA ID serves as access to relevant federal online systems and as your legal signature on the document. No one else may create an FSA ID for you. You also need your Social Security number, or Alien Registration number, and driver's license number. For the FAFSA's financial information sections, you need your tax records from the previous year, as well as records of untaxed income and any assets you hold. If you are a dependent, your parents must supply all this information for themselves as well. Finally, you can submit a list of potential schools to which the federal government should send your FAFSA report. You may include up to 10 schools in the list.

Filling Out Your FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA online is the quickest, easiest, and best way. The online option presents you with the right questions and can help you check for accuracy. It generates faster decisions, too. If necessary, you can complete the FAFSA on a screen-fillable PDF. You enter the information on the screen but print and mail the document. This option allows you to save the data to your PC. It is still possible to request a paper FAFSA for applicants who prefer that approach.

The online FAFSA option presents you with the right questions and can help you check for accuracy.

The FAFSA includes several sections. The student information section asks for contact information, legal residence, prior drug convictions, and degree seeking. In the student financial information section, applicants provide information taken from their income taxes and salaries, including their spouse's earnings if applicable. The student status portion of the FAFSA asks about student age, legal dependents, marital status, and guardianship. If the applicant's parents need to complete their portion of the FAFSA, they should prepare information about taxes, investments, and salaries.

The FAFSA's final section relates to student household information, and it asks about how many people live in the household. Upon completing the FAFSA, applicants and their parents need to provide certifying statements that confirm tax and salary information is accurate.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

Apply Online

The online FAFSA uses skip-logic, so you only have to answer relevant questions. It also catches common errors in submission, and it comes with a helpful pre-application worksheet.

Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

If the IRS DRT is open to you, use this tool to fill out the FAFSA. It is fast and accurate, eliminating the need to search for forms or worry about mistakes.

List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order

You can list up to 10 schools on the FAFSA. Federal agencies do not request a certain order, but some states do. Check online to see if your state is one of these.

Fill Out Every Field of the Form

Do not leave any field blank. If a question does not apply to you, simply insert an "o." Blanks in the form can delay financial aid decisions and distribution.

Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances

Applicants can include a letter with the FAFSA explaining any special circumstances, such as high medical bills or a recent job loss. Supporting documentation should accompany this letter.

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

After double checking the FAFSA for accuracy, you, and your parents if you are a dependent, can sign the document electronically using FSA IDs from FSAID.ed.gov. If necessary, you can print, sign, and mail the page, but doing so delays processing. After signing the FAFSA, you should see a confirmation page, which you need to print and retain with your records.

Student Aid Report

A document containing the fundamentals about financial aid eligibility, the Student Aid Report (SAR), goes to applicants who successfully complete the FAFSA, as well as to the schools those applicants choose. The SAR includes the basic details about the applicant, a receipt date for the application, the Data Release number, and the EFC. Applicants need to verify the information on their SARs. If you discover a mistake in your SAR, you should get in touch with your chosen school's financial aid office, complete a new FAFSA, or make signed changes and submit the document again. You may qualify for financial aid if your SAR indicates that you are eligible for verification.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

Students receive funds in different ways and at different times depending on the aid package for which they qualify. First-time loan recipients must sign a promissory note and attend entrance counseling, which explains the facts about student loan policies and repayments. Students should consult with their school's financial aid office to understand more about their own distinct aid packages. No student has to accept financial aid, whether it is offered by the government or a private institution.

What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?

You must complete the FAFSA between October 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019, for aid in the 2018-2019 school year.

Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?

Most federal financial aid packages are need-based, and good grades do not count toward eligibility. However, many private agencies and schools do consider an applicant's GPA when awarding funds.

Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?

Students of any age may apply for federal financial aid using the FAFSA. The U.S. government does not discriminate by age or gender when determining financial aid eligibility.

Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?

You can apply for financial aid regardless of your family's total income. While you may not be eligible for some forms of need-based aid, many merit-based scholarships also require you to fill out the FAFSA.

Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?

No, your parents' citizenship status has nothing to do with your eligibility for financial aid. In fact, the FAFSA does not even include a question about your parents' citizenship.

How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

It only takes about 30 minutes of work to fill out the forms if you have all your documents at hand. The FAFSA is not a complicated document to complete.

Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?

Yes, your chosen schools will open your application file when they receive the first documentation from you whether that is your application, transcript, or financial aid documents.

Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?

Applicants and their parent can visit www.fafsa.ed.gov, an ED website that provides current information information on the FAFSA and its policies and procedures.