Senior year in high school is filled with important and exciting milestones. Many students are preparing for the next steps in their educational careers by applying to colleges. One of the most important activities that take place for these college-bound students is seeking financial aid. Nearly $3 billion (yes, Billion) in federal financial aid goes unclaimed every year. To access this funding, all students should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA, regardless of scholarships and other college funding that may be available to them. How can you receive federal financial aid? When is the FAFSA due?
What is FAFSA?
As a TRIO program administrator, you probably understand what FAFSA is and why it’s important. However, there is a chance your students may not. In fact, more than a third of high school graduates fail to file FAFSA each year. For those without family experience with the college preparation process, FAFSA is yet another acronym that might be a mystery to students.
The FAFSA form, provided by the federal government, determines student eligibility for federal financial aid. Funds awarded from FAFSA can be either free federal grant money or a federal student loan. This is the first step in paying for college. For students from lower economic backgrounds, federal grant money or student loans can make the path to a college degree easier to travel.
When Should Students File FAFSA?
During the fall of their senior year, college-bound students should be gathering materials to help them file the FAFSA form. These materials include tax returns for themselves and/or their parents, personal and family asset records (such as bank statements and investments), social security numbers for themselves and their parents, and their driver’s license or government ID. They will also need to know the federal school codes for the schools they will be applying to. The first time they complete the FAFSA, they will set up an FSA ID. The FSA ID will be the username and password combination they will use to log in to the FAFSA portal each year they apply for funds.
When is the FAFSA Due?
It’s important to understand that there are actually three separate deadlines for filing: a federal, state, and school deadline. Let’s break it down:
- Federal FAFSA due date – This deadline is later than you might expect. The final date to file a FAFSA for the current school year is usually toward the end of the school year. (For example, the deadline for the 2021-22 school year is June 30, 2022.) Eligibility for funding can change over the course of the school year as financial circumstances change. The later deadline allows for a reassessment of need. You can find specific FAFSA dealine information on fafsa.gov.
- State FAFSA due date– States can set their own deadlines for filing FAFSA because there is funding available for in-state public universities. These dates can vary by state.
- School FAFSA due date– Like states, schools can determine when their deadlines are for receiving student FAFSA information. Many schools include FAFSA funding in their financial aid package, which often arrives along with acceptance letters. Each school’s deadline is specific to their timeline, so students should research their potential schools to learn what that deadline is.
As a rule of thumb, the earlier a student submits their FAFSA, the more aid they can possibly receive. Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA application opens on October 1 each year, regardless of state or college deadlines. For incoming freshmen, submitting their complete FAFSA form should be done in October of their senior year of high school. Doing so will help them to meet the independent deadlines set forth by states and colleges. Going forward, students will need to file FAFSA each year they will be attending college.
Why Should Students File FAFSA?
There is a misconception that FAFSA funding is only available for low-income students. However, not all financial aid is need-based. In fact, most students qualify for at least some aid, regardless of family income. Unsubsidized loans require a student to fill out the FAFSA, as well.
While the length of the form and the depth of information required can be daunting, the FAFSA typically only takes about 30 minutes to complete. Tax data can be directly input by the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the form, saving students and their families some time and effort during the process. In addition, students can update the information on the form should their financial circumstances change during the school year.
While all college-bound students should submit FAFSA, it can be especially useful to those who are the first in their families to attend college. Keep in mind that the FAFSA form opens up on October 1 for the next fall’s school year. Encourage students to apply as soon as the form is available.
Helping TRIO Students File FAFSA
For students without a family background of higher education, FAFSA is one of many elements in the college application process that can feel complicated. To assist first-generation college students, consider hosting a FAFSA workshop ahead of the opening date, on the opening date, and/or soon after. Ahead of the event, give them a list of materials to bring, so they can begin compiling the necessary information. Use your school’s computer lab and invite your school counselors and/or college financial aid professionals to lend a hand.
TRIO programs enable many students to dream bigger by exposing them to a larger world of possibilities. For many, college can become a realistic goal that not only improves their lives but also the lives of their families. Helping them to take the necessary steps toward college admissions and financial aid is part of what TRIO is all about!
Promote FAFSA participation to your TRIO program members and families with these (free to use and share) FAFSA images.
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