At the top of today’s To Do list? Complete FAFSA online. It’s been at the top of my list for a few weeks now, and knowing I had plenty of time to do it, I kept procrastinating. I’d heard nightmare stories and was worried about wanting to give up halfway through and go open a bottle of wine.
Other moms or dads of high school students, do you feel me?
Today I decided I needed to just knock it out. Our son has applied to colleges and has a good plan, but even with a 4.0+ GPA, competition for scholarships are tough. To give him the best opportunity to prepare for the career he wans, I want to have as much financial aid lined up as we can get. Both the husband and I work, but we are in that spot between getting any real help and being able to just write all the checks. This means we need to look for college tuition money wherever we can find it. That means our first step is FAFSA.
Things have come a long way since my college days. Now we can complete FAFSA online, a huge improvement over piles of paperwork. But first, what exactly is FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As it says, it is free, and any prospective student, or current student, can start the application process. Parents can also complete it for their dependent children, as the financial aid process requires knowledge of income totals and other numbers our kids may not be privy to.
Federal Student Aid comes in many forms but it’s basically broken down into two categories: free college money, or college tuition loans you need to pay back. Obviously, we want to seek that free money but we need to know we can get those loans in the event free money doesn’t pay all the bills. With college costs being exceedingly high, chances are that without some fancy full ride offer (tuition, books AND housing), you’ll need a combination of both.
Don’t be afraid of the process though. With a little preparation, you can plow through the online process and be done before you have to start thinking about scholarship deadlines….because yes, scholarships are handled in a separate place. More on that in a different post.
My son’s a senior in high school and he wants to go to college for business. We began the college application process months ago, using a list we created that helps us stay on top of all the deadlines. Different schools have different due dates and scholarship deadlines are all over the map, so take my word for it and start as early as possible.
What do I need to complete FAFSA online? Not a lot. Submitting a FAFSA application isn’t hard, just time-consuming to gather your info.
Block out an hour or two of time. My internet speed wasn’t as fast as I’d like today so it took me a little over an hour. I could have shortened it had I been able to connect my tax information, but I’ll explain that in a bit.
Before you start, grab a pen and paper. You will want to notate your login information, passwords and the code you create so you can stop in the midst of the form then resume without issue. (Do not make a mistake on this part — if you erroneously capitalize something as I did, you can’t recapture the code and will need to start over.)
IF YOUR CHILD IS MALE: you will be asked if they have filed for Selective Service. You can continue if they have not, but the form notates that some types of aid will require that this step be completed. It’s a very fast process, also requiring their social security number and they must submit the form themself. My son already did it but I will say that I wholeheartedly do NOT agree with this as it is only required of males. Females serve — as I did — and we’re a world working to obtain equality. There hasn’t been a draft since 1973, so let’s get rid of this antiquated requirement, or require it of ALL people. (I believe they are required to file this within 60-days of turning 18, but I do not know anything about the penalty of not doing it.)
Get your tax returns for the prior year. (I grabbed our 2017 tax returns since I’m doing this in January of 2019. 2018 returns aren’t yet filed, so they ask questions about our 2017 income.)
Know your dependent student’s security number.
Know what colleges your child wants to go to; it will ask for up to 10 initially. (You can do this via a school code or a search option.)
Go to FAFSA on the web and create an account for yourself, and another for your child.
Be sure your child’s available to submit his/her signature at the end; you will need it for submission. It will require that your child click through their own FAFSA ID to imply acceptance.
Then the fun begins! Take it slow, so you make sure you answer everything correctly. (I did it while people were watching the Rams play the Saints to see who goes to the big game. Not my best decision.)
FAFSA will want to ascertain how many members there are in your household. Be honest, because you will supply your (and your child’s other parent’s) social security number and tax information.
The worst part of the application is the financial specifics. The form offers you the opportunity for them to import your IRS data via a few extra clicks. I was disappointed to find out that after I completed that portion, the IRS would not allow this step. This is because my husband’s tax information was hacked a few years back so each year, we are limited until a certain number of years have gone by. (Our tax return was actually filed by the hacker, so imagine the massive headache it took to rectify that; it took eight months to get our tax return and that was after legal help.)
In the absence of connection with the IRS data retrieval tool, the FAFSA form will require information from your 1040 or whatever form you’ve used. It is specific at least, but you may need to do some math to add/subtract income PER PERSON on the return, not a total. In other words, I had to use my W-2 and business income/expense report line to give them the accurate income total. I then had to do it for the husband’s income. (He is easier as he does not have both a W-2 and business income like I do.) It isn’t difficult to do this, just tedious.
It also gave me the heeby-jeebies because I know we’ll have to begin last year’s tax return soon. That is when I WILL need the wine.
Keep your phone handy, as there are options to secure your account via your phone. You will also need access to your email to activate your account.
When the process is done, it will give you the opportunity to print it in its entirety. (It was only five pages long.) You can quickly review your responses before you complete and submit. Print the confirmation page and celebrate!
Up next? Going through the long list of scholarships at Scholarship.com, amongst other sites. His school has also recommended programs he should apply for. Some deadlines have passed, but if you haven’t started yet, it is NOT too late. There is a lot of money available out there. To be clear, you do NOT need to complete FAFSA online first. You can do scholarship applications independently, but FAFSA money is separate and it is recommended you do both. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Once you fill out the FAFSA forms completely, it will give you an approximation of what may apply to you. We learned there are a few federal student loans we could look into, as we don’t qualify for grants. It’s disappointing that all his hard work and high grades don’t make this process more merit-based, but we will continue working the programs to see what we can get before that first tuition check is due!
One last tip: file the FAFSA forms in a manila folder containing all copies of related paperwork so you have everything in one place.
Parents of high school students considering college, do your research. Get creative. Prepare your teen ahead of time for the process of applications, because they are likely going to have to write essays. A lot of scholarships want our kids to explain why they deserve to win the scholarship, so work with them on creative writing, good grammar and solid ideas. Sometimes our kids have amazing stories to share! We need to encourage them to be authentic and their uniqueness will stand out!