This is our fourth post on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the U.S. Department of Education form that is submitted annually by college applicants and continuing students seeking financial aid for college. FAFSA data is made available to Federal and state agencies, colleges to which you apply, and private organizations that award financial aid.
The FAFSA is a universal medium by which students obtain most scholarships, grants, work study arrangements, and loans for college. It’s all but essential that high school seniors and their parents submit a FAFSA on or soon after October 1 of the year before they’ll begin college. It’s a free and simple process.
This post advises you on what to expect and do after submitting the FAFSA. The topics of our three previous posts concerning the FAFSA were:
- The FAFSA and Federal Student Loans – This post introduces the FAFSA and provides an overview of the FAFSA process. It also describes the three Federal loan programs that are available to students.
- Federal Pandemic Relief and College Costs – This post describes the provisions in the three Federal laws that provided funding for colleges and students impacted by the pandemic. It details the highly relevant FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020, which goes into effect on July 1, 2023.
- The FAFSA Is an Important Step in Paying for College – This post provides step-by-step advice on completing and submitting the FAFSA with advice on the answers that you provide.
Ensure That Your FAFSA Was Processed
After you submit your FAFSA online or through the myStudentAid mobile app, you can log in to check its status. Your application’s status will be one of the following:
- Processing: Your application’s processing is incomplete.
- Processed Successfully: Your status is satisfactory. No action needed.
- Missing Signatures: Your application is missing required signature(s).
- Action Required: Your application requires further action in order to be processed. Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center.
Understand How Your FAFSA is Used
Among other organizations, your FAFSA information is shared with the colleges that you listed on your application. The financial aid office at each college to which you successfully apply uses your information to determine the types and amounts of aid you’re eligible to receive. Their determination is also sent to your state’s education agency as well as to education agencies in the states in which the other colleges to which you successfully apply are located.
Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR)
The SAR is a summary of your FAFSA data. You’ll receive your SAR within three weeks of submitting the FAFSA. Look it over carefully to ensure that you didn’t make mistakes. Make corrections as necessary to your FAFSA via studentaid.gov.
The SAR won’t inform you of the types and amounts of financial aid you’ll receive. Every college listed on your FAFSA that admits you will individually ascertain your financial aid eligibility through their own internal processes. When they’re ready, they’ll send you an Aid Offer, also referred to as an Award Letter, which tells you how much aid you’re eligible for at that college. The timing of the Aid Offer varies from college to college. It ranges from as early as the winter of your senior year for the following fall or as late as just prior to the beginning of the fall semester.
Provide Verification if Required
There may be a note on your SAR informing you that you’ve been selected for verification, or a college may contact you later to inform you that they have selected you for verification. Verification is the process that the Federal Student Aid (FSA) office and colleges use to confirm that your FAFSA data is correct. If you’re selected for verification, you’ll be told what you need to do to verify the information on your FAFSA.
Don’t assume that there’s a problem if you’re selected for verification. Some applicants are selected for verification at random by the FSA office. There are many colleges that verify the FAFSA information of all applicants as a matter of policy.
Accepting Financial Aid
Your task when you receive an Aid Offer is to understand the components of the package that’s being offered to you. You may accept some or all of the components. Have a plan to accept or decline components that have been offered before you respond to the Aid Offer.
- Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants don’t need to be repaid but they often have contractual conditions that you must abide by to remain eligible. Make sure you understand these conditions. You might need to maintain a certain grade-point average to continue to receive a scholarship, or a grant might convert into a loan if you don’t teach after graduation for a certain period of time under specific conditions.
- Work Study Programs
You’ll need to do the work as prescribed in the Aid Offer, so be confident that you can balance your time between work and study so that you’ll be able to do both well.
- Federal Student Loans
You’ll have to repay the money with interest starting six months after you graduate or sooner if you don’t remain in school until you finish your degree. A subsidized loan doesn’t start accruing interest until you graduate, so if you’re offered a choice, accept a subsidized loan before an unsubsidized loan, which accrues interest as soon as it’s disbursed, Either is preferrable to a PLUS loan.
- Loans From Your State or College
The terms of state and college loans will vary widely so make sure that you compare a number of alternatives to determine which loans are best for your needs. There is also wide variety of loans from private lenders available to college students, but you’ll need to research these options yourself since information about them won’t be included in your Aid Offer.
Learn How Your Funds Will Be Paid Out
If you’re offered financial aid and accept it, the financial aid staff at your college will explain how and when your aid will be paid out and how, in the case of loans, it is to be paid back. They’ll have you fill out any additional documentation and let you know about requirements that you may need to meet. For example, if you’re receiving a Federal student loan for the first time, you’ll be required to sign a Master Promissory Note and attend a session of Student Loan Entrance Counseling. Be sure to remain in contact with your financial aid office throughout your college career.