FSFSA – a Parent’s Guide to College Financial Aid

As teenagers enter their senior year of high school, many begin to work through the tedious paperwork to prepare for college. In addition to the overwhelming events of finishing high school, including graduation, finals, exit exams and extracuricullar activities, high school seniors are eagerly relying on their parents to work through the paperwork nightmare so often associated with college admission. For parents, the key is accuracy and timing. In an effort to improve the efficiency of the college admissions process, the following is an outline of the procedures for obtaining federal financial assistance for your future college student.

In an effort to timely prepare for financial assistance, as part of the college admissions process, determine the exact deadlines for financial aid processing through the school your child will attend. When discussing aid with the school, inquire as to what additional paperwork may be needed, in addition to the FSFSA application, to qualify for financial aid. Some states and schools vary with regard to the additional financial aid paperwork and deadline requirements.

Next, and before completing any FSFSA financial aid paperwork, the following documents should be gathered as they will be referenced during the process: social security numbers for the parents as well as the senior in high school, most recent calendar year tax returns, copies of the last three months of bank statements, driver’s license numbers, documentation of any nontaxable income and copies of any investment property or investment account documents.

Once these documents are gathered, log on to www.fsfsa.ed.gov, complete the online application. Ensure all information is accurate and submit the documentation with the appropriate code designation for the college, or colleges, or your high school senior plans to attend. By doing so, all financial aid information will be stored with regard to those prospective schools even if the prospective college student does not actually attend that particular school. As a general rule, financial aid applications, for school years beginning in the fall, are generally no earlier than January 1st of the same calendar year.

Upon review of the FSFSA form, the results of the financial need will be returned to you in a document referred to as the SAR, Student Aid Report. This document may be delivered via email or standard mail depending on the method you choose. Upon receipt, supply this document to the financial aid office of the college or university your high schools senior plans to attend at which time the school will make the calculations to determine what, if any, financial aid is available.

Under the FSFSA, financial need for pell grants (money which is not paid back), student loans (money which is loaned at a deferred repayment plan), and work study programs (money which is paid in exchange for employment), are all taken into consideration. For most scholarship and financial aid programs, outside of the FSFSA, an SAR may be required to determine eligibility. So, before pursuing financial assistance of other sources, complete the FSFSA first, obtain the SAR and know what your financial position will be well in advance of the time your senior graduates from high school.

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