Deciding to go to college is a big decision. Not only are you going to be in school for at least four more years, but you’re also making one of the biggest investments of your life. The price of higher education these days can be intimidating! The good news is that most students don’t pay the “sticker price” for their college education (the number you read on the tuition and fees page), but instead pay a “net price” that is much lower. The difference between sticker price and net price is financial aid. In this post, we will give you the lowdown on how to get financial aid.
Step 1: Get a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID
The FSA ID gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems and also serves as a legal signature as you go through the process. You can apply for your FSA ID before you start filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) (see step 3) or during the FAFSA process.
Note: You can only get an FSA ID for yourself (not for friends, family members, and so on).
Step 2: Gather Information for the FAFSA
Before you dive into filling out the FAFSA, it’s good to gather the information you’ll need. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll need the financial information for you and your parent(s). Here’s the list:
- Your social security number
- Your prior year tax returns and/or W-2 statements
- Your bank statements
- Your current value of non-retirement investments
- The net worth of your properties such as rental units, investment farms, and second homes
Step 3: Fill Out the FAFSA
To ensure you get the highest possible financial aid award, it’s important to fill out the FAFSA online and use the school code for the schools on your list (you can include up to ten schools on the FAFSA). To speed up the process, use the handy IRS Data Retrieval Tool offered within the FAFSA to populate selected values from student and parent tax returns.
Important: Be sure to check in with the admissions offices at your target colleges to find out the recommended date for submitting the FAFSA.
Step 4: Submit Additional Documents
Colleges may reach out to you for additional documentation. When they do, be sure to respond to the request in a timely manner. This will allow the college to send your financial aid packet sooner rather than later. And this will help you make your decision!
Step 5: Apply for Outside Sources of Assistance
Financial aid officers recommend that you apply for all outside sources of assistance for which you are eligible. Every dollar counts! Here are some sources to consider:
- Dollars for Scholars
- Community organizations (incl. churches, mosques, synagogues, Rotary Clubs)
- Corporations (incl. banks, insurance companies)
Finally, remember that financial aid offices are staffed by humans. If you have special circumstances that are not reflected in the FAFSA, contact the financial aid office. Special circumstances might include unemployment, divorce, high medical expenses, loss of benefits, one-time income, and more. Every student’s financial situation is unique—and should be handled accordingly.