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Tuition and associated costs for a four-year degree at the nation’s top private universities now total over $200,000. And, the cost continues to rise. For most families, a combination of financial aid and student loans has become the key to making a college education attainable.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used by colleges nationwide to determine how much financial aid students will receive, and it's the process that determines a family's expected contribution toward tuition.
FAFSA deadlines vary by school, and some are as early as February 1. Preparing the necessary documentation and completing the forms properly can make the process easier and faster. Here are some tips:
1. Complete the FAFSA early: Since several schools now award aid money on a first-come, first-served basis – until funds are depleted – it's recommended that you file as early as possible. Many families file their taxes first and use them as easy references while completing the FAFSA.
Two big changes were made to the FAFSA back in 2016. First, the FAFSA is available three months earlier than in years past (October 1 instead of January 1). Second, the FAFSA will collect income information from an earlier tax year.
2. File every year: Even if a family doesn't think it will qualify for need-based aid, it's smart to complete the FAFSA anyway because it's impossible to predict how much financial aid a family might receive. Federally-sponsored loans require a completed FAFSA. Further, if a family doesn't fill out a FAFSA in the student's first year, there are some cases when they will not be allowed to apply in subsequent years. Therefore, if there is an unforeseen change in a family's financial situation, it could make it more difficult to obtain aid.
3. Be thorough: Errors on the FAFSA can delay processing and may jeopardize the amount of aid you receive. Similarly, leaving fields blank in your application can cause further delays. For those fields that don’t apply to you, insert a "0" or write "Not applicable." The online version of the FAFSA will prompt you if fields aren't filled in correctly.
4. File online: To reduce the amount of time you must wait to receive your Student Aid Report, file online. Instead of waiting 2-3 weeks, you may have a response back in as little as 3-5 days. Additionally, the online version has the ability to omit irrelevant questions. This simplifies and expedites the process.
5. Be truthful: Intentionally providing misinformation on your FASFA may lead to fines or even time in prison. If you find yourself in a situation where you are receiving little or no aid from a school, there are additional options available to students, such as scholarships and lending resources, to help them achieve their education.
We are committed to helping you reach your potential. For more information about student lending, call 1-888-411-0266 to speak with one of our Student Lending Specialists, visit us online, or visit your nearest Citizens Bank branch for assistance with filling out a FAFSA.
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