Make Friends With FAFSA: You won’t get financial aid without it

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All students applying to college should know about FAFSA.

Also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, everyone—rich, poor, or somewhere in between—should plan to fill out a FAFSA application as part of applying to college.

Students and parents might assume they are not eligible for financial aid because of the family’s income. Many times this is wrong.

“One of the largest barriers to a higher education is the funding,” says Jo Branson, Director of Financial Aid at Spoon River College.

FAFSA is the foundation for all financial aid and allows students to be considered for federal Pell grants, state grants, Stafford student loans, scholarships and work-study programs. These funds can help pay for college tuition as well as books and some fees.

“New students, and especially their parents, are under the misconception that they are not eligible for financial aid because of the family’s income,” says Branson. “Many times this can be a wrong assumption and a reason why a lot of eligible students don’t apply.

“It’s also a misconception that student loans aren’t financial aid. This is not true. Students must apply so we can determine eligibility for need-based and non-need-based federal loans.”

Fill out that FAFSA

Branson calls the FAFSA application “like kryptonite,” robbing students
and their parents of strength and resolve.

That’s because the form is a
10-page booklet with careful,
step-by-step instructions. Parents need their current tax returns for a dependent student, and independent students must have tax returns for themselves and their spouse.

While the whole process can turn stomachs into knots, students and parents can usually go to the college’s financial aid office for one-on-one help. And if you complete your family’s tax forms before filling out the FAFSA, you will have your best financial information at hand.

Awards vary by college

Students are awarded financial aid once they’re admitted to a college or university. If they are admitted to several, each school will receive the FAFSA report, which the college uses to determine a broad range of financial aid options that includes grants, loans, scholarships and
work study.

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