How the financial aid process works

For high school students, the time is fast approaching for your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be completed and submitted to the college(s) you plan to attend next year. Yes, you read that right… you submit the FAFSA almost a year before you start college! October 1, 2022 is the first day you can complete a FAFSA for the 2023-24 academic year.

In this blog, I’ll provide a quick overview of the steps you need to take to prepare for the FAFSA and how the financial aid process works.

Before completing the FAFSA, create an account at StudentAid.gov. This is a unique username and password tied to your name, date of birth, and social security number. It is therefore very important to write them down and keep them in a safe place! You’ll need to set up two-factor authentication, which will require you to verify your mobile number and email address or use an authenticator app during this process. Be sure to use a personal email address and not your school’s! Additionally, one of your custodial parents will also need to create an account.

Your usernames and passwords are used for various reasons:

  • FAFSA Login
  • Upload Parent and Student Tax Information to the FAFSA Directly from the IRS
  • Sign the FAFSA for parent and student so it can be submitted electronically
  • Complete the student and/or parent PLUS loan process, if required
  • Loan Information Tracking

The FAFSA is a FREE form that students complete and submit to be considered for federal, state, and college financial aid. The FAFSA opens on October 1, 2022 at studentaid.gov. It is always best to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to be considered for the best financial aid offer you qualify for.

Use this checklist for a full list of information you will need to complete the FAFSA. The form will ask about income, assets, household size, and how many people will be in college. All of this information is important, so read the checklist carefully!

The FAFSA is asking for tax information from two years ago. If your situation has changed due to loss of a job, death of a relative, excessive medical expenses, etc., we encourage you to do the following:

  • Complete and submit the FAFSA as instructed. You must declare your 2021 tax information as it was declared to the IRS… you cannot modify it in any way!
  • Contact the financial aid office(s) of any colleges you have listed on the FAFSA. Explain your situation and the college may be able to adjust the FAFSA results after requesting and reviewing your current tax documents.

You will receive an email from Federal Student Aid 3-5 days after submitting the FAFSA. This email confirms that your information has been passed from the Federal Processing Center to the college(s) you listed on your FAFSA. The email will contain a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR), which will indicate if you are eligible for a PELL grant and if you have been selected for a process called verification. The SAR is also important as a copy of it may be requested for some need-based scholarships.

Verification is a review process performed by the college to verify that the information reported on the FAFSA is accurate. Students should carefully monitor their emails and college portals for any inquiries from the college financial aid office. The college may request additional documentation of some of your FAFSA information. Respond as soon as possible as colleges will not award financial aid until the verification process is complete. If you are selected for verification, do not panic! It’s a simple process to complete and it doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong when filing your FAFSA.

Each college you have listed on the FAFSA will send you a financial aid offer, if the college has accepted you for admission. The offer will be sent to your email address or posted on your student portal, so be sure to monitor those communication channels closely! The financial aid offer will outline the types and amounts of aid you are eligible for, which may include institutional scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and federal loans.

If you applied to more than one college, be sure to compare your financial aid offers to see which institution presented the best package. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much has each college offered in scholarships and grants (i.e. money that does not have to be repaid)?
  • What will be my “reimbursable” expenses?
  • Will I need to take out federal loans and if so, how much?

You have a number of resources to learn more about financial aid and how the process works. Visit our website at EducationQquest.org for upcoming statewide financial aid presentations and livestreams, and to sign up for monthly emails from Countdown2College. Also, follow us on social media for up-to-date information and book an appointment with EducationQuest for FREE help!

By Jacquie Butler