October: Seniors need to do FAFSA. NOW.

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  You don’t need to memorize that…but notice the FREE part.  If you are filling out FAFSA and get asked to submit money, it is proof you are on the wrong website.  You want FAFSA.ed.gov but one wrong letter typed in can land you on a look-alike site that will happily charge  $79.95 of your hard earned money.  Type carefully!

The first step in doing a FAFSA is getting your Username and Password set up…and by “you” I mean one for parents, and one for the student.  While we have a number for our social security, our drivers license and our credit cards, the FAFSA ID is NOT A NUMBER.   It used to be a number, called a “Pin” but those days are gone.  Now when you set up the username/password, THAT is your FAFSA ID.  Parents will keep the same username/password, and each child in the family will have their own.

After you log on to FAFSA and set up the username/password combo, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE write it down.  Save it on your phone (I recommend making a contact of a favorite fictional character, and saving it under that name.  No one will look for your FAFSA ID under “Contacts:  Mary Poppins”.  The second step is to check your email for a letter from FAFSA asking you to CONFIRM that your email is really yours, really working, and you really know how to access it (with high school kids, this is not always a given).  Confirm the email and you are well on the way to starting your FAFSA!

Important tips:

  1.  Students and parents CANNOT use the same email address.  This will stop your FAFSA ID process cold.
  2. Students should not use a school email address:  it will vanish right after they graduate, so they should use a non-school email account.
  3. You will be using the taxes you just completed last April.  Top of the pile…so go find those and you will be ready to start.  Most mistakes are due to incorrect information being typed in on your FAFSA…name, birthdate, social security numbers MUST all be correct.  Type carefully!
  4. It is CRITICAL that students list the schools they are interested on their FAFSA!!!  The FAFSA works a bit like a camera, giving a quick snap-shot view of your financial situation.  The FAFSA then turns your information into a report representing your financial situation…and the schools you list will each get a report from FAFSA.
  5. The trade schools/colleges/programs you are considering will look at your FAFSA and determine how much student aid to offer you.  You want to have as complete a list of schools as possible, though it will be possible to log in later to add or remove schools.  List schools even if you are not certain you will be applying to them.
  6. Boys who are 18 MUST file with Selective Service to complete their FAFSA.  If he does not, it will not go through.
  7. They (FAFSA) will send your SAR:  Student Aid Report, once your FAFSA is processed…but first you must finish the FAFSA and submit it….  You electronically sign at the end with your Username/Password combo before you click “submit”.  Don’t skip the username/password, don’t forget to click “submit”.  Knowing it is submitted is good news:  now to wait for you Student Aid Report.
  8. FAFSA has an 800 help number that leads to an ACTUAL HUMAN, and they even speak English…though a few of my Oregon parents have found the FAFSA folks helping from the Deep South a bit tough to follow.  Seriously, call for help if you have questions, they are AWESOME. 1-800-433-3243.  The other great place for FAFSA help:  youtube.com.  They have several short, well done videos to help explain many parts of the FAFSA process.  Check them out!
  9. Every community in America has a place where people are very good at helping with a FAFSA:  your local community college financial aid office.  They are also AWESOME.
  10. Once your FAFSA has been processed, you will get another long letter from FAFSA, your SAR.  BE SURE TO READ IT.  It may let you know if there were any issues with filing your FAFSA….but it may be in the small print down in the body of the letter.  Actually read it.  Then if you need to make changes or corrections, you can do so.
  11. The FAFSA4Caster is a way to plug in your numbers and get a good idea of what kinds of grants/aid you can expect.  The poorer you are, the better the odds some money will be coming your way.  By using the FAFSA4caster, you may realize that you are NOT going to be offered much aid…so scholarships and careful shopping of schools may become a MUCH more important part of your career planning.  FAFSA4caster can be found on FAFSA.ed.gov
  12. Last but SO important:  Be sure to file your FAFSA for NEXT year, 2018-19.  You are busy in 2017-18 being a High School Senior, so don’t accidentally fill it out for this year.

I know, it’s a lot.  Students will need to refile their FAFSA every October 1st until they are done with college/trade school.

In the world of financial aid, there are grants out there…”free money” that goes toward education and does not have to be paid back.  Free is our favorite.  Sadly, the buckets of free money are handed out either based on level of need or on WHEN YOU COMPLETE your FAFSA.  This is why it is so critical to do FAFSA as soon as possible after it opens October 1st.  Once a free money “bucket” runs dry, it won’t matter how qualified a student is, the money is gone.

Good luck!

Photo Credit:  Courtney Recker


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