If your child is entering their final years of high school, you are most likely thinking about what college they will be attending. You also might be wondering how they’re going to pay for it.
You know financial aid exists, of course, but you may not know all the nitty-gritty details: When do you apply for it? How do you apply for it? How much will your child get? This guide can help you and your child through the process of applying for financial aid to ensure your child gets all the money they can for their next phase of life.
What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s an application that collects information about your family and financial situation. The government uses it in collaboration with colleges and universities to decide how much financial assistance your child is eligible to receive.
One common misconception about the FAFSA is that your child should only apply if you make under a certain amount of money. This is untrue, as all students should complete the application. You never know what can change from year to year, and your student may be eligible for more assistance than you would expect.
If your student is a Pennsylvania resident and attending a school within the state, they must complete the FAFSA before applying for the Pennsylvania State Grant Program through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, or PHEAA. This process is initiated automatically after they finish filling out the FAFSA. This is another form of financial aid, and it also allows them to apply for Pennsylvania work-study programs.
Keep in mind that even if your child is going to school part-time, they may still qualify for financial aid. Here are several different types of financial aid that might be available to your child:
Unlike the other forms of financial aid, loans will need to be repaid, and there are both federally funded and private options. Before taking out a private loan, help your child explore all student loan options and review terms and conditions carefully to make sure your child is getting the best interest rate and repayment options.
How to Apply for Financial Aid
You and your child can complete the FAFSA online by going to studentaid.gov and following the steps for filling out the FAFSA form. The FAFSA requires a great deal of personal and financial information, so having this information collected in advance can help your child complete the application efficiently. Your child will need to submit the following information for themselves, as well as for the parent(s) they’re dependent on:
Driver’s license number, if applicable.
Social Security number or Alien Registration Number for anyone who’s not a U.S. citizen.
Tax information (most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. There is also a tool set up to transfer this information directly from the IRS.)
Records of assets and any untaxed income
Your child will also need a list of schools they plan to apply to, even if they’re not 100% sure of their choices. They can add more later, but the earlier the schools get their application, the better your child’s chances of getting the assistance they need.
When to Apply for Financial Aid
Your child should apply for financial aid in the fall before they enroll in college. The FAFSA is released on October 1 each year, so that is the soonest they can apply.
Due dates vary on the federal, state, and college levels. For federal aid, applications usually must be received by June 30, but check the website to be sure. In Pennsylvania, the deadline is dependent on the type of institution your child will attend. Some colleges also have priority deadlines that maximize the chances of getting the most aid possible.
If your child completes the form as soon as it becomes available, they can submit it before sending their college applications. However, a college will not offer your child an aid package until they have applied, even if the college is included on the FAFSA.
The earlier your child completes and submits the form, the better their chances are of getting the best package for their situation. Depending on the types of funding they’re applying for, those who submit their applications first are most likely to receive the most aid. Those who submit their applications later get what’s left.
Many colleges send out acceptance letters and aid packages well before the deadline, so if your child is submitting their application in the spring, they could be missing out on money. Make sure your child checks with all the colleges they applied to for their deadlines.
Your child can submit the FAFSA before each school year for as many years as they would like, but that does not guarantee that they will receive aid every year or that the aid will be the same. Changes in income or household size may impact their financial aid package. Different programs have limitations on how long students can receive assistance. It’s best to have your child check with a college financial aid counselor to see what they will be eligible for.
What to Do After Your Child Applies for Financial Aid
After your child applies for federal student aid, they can follow up with the financial aid offices of the schools they want to attend. This is to make sure the schools received their application and are not missing any vital information.
Sometimes things change after your child submits the FAFSA. Some items, such as the amount of money in your or your child’s savings account, cannot be changed on the form. These items usually include the qualifier “on the day you submitted your FAFSA,” so it’s okay if they change after the form is submitted. Other items, such as email or mailing address, should be updated if they change. Even though these may not have been errors when the FAFSA was submitted, the FAFSA form allows you to change this information.
Financial information should be true as of the day your child submits the form. But if your family faces a major financial challenge after your child submits the FAFSA, they can contact the school’s financial aid office and explain the situation.
Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA
College will be an exciting time in your child’s life. The less they stress about money, the more enjoyable that time will be for them and for you. Help start their journey off right and gather the personal and financial information your child needs to complete their application. If your child has questions, help them or suggest they contact the financial aid office at the schools they’re applying to for help and encourage them to submit their application as early as possible.
Looking for more ways to help your student get ready for college financially? Check out more tips on our WalletWorks page.
The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.