It’s FAFSA Time

The financial aid process has changed over the last few years. Most changes have been designed to make it easier on families. You start by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at http://www.fafsa.gov or by downloading the MyStudentAid app from your App Store.

The FAFSA now opens around October 1st giving families a longer window to file. It also now uses your income from two years ago instead of the prior year. If you are submitting the FAFSA for the Fall 2020 school year, you use your 2018 taxes. Also most states have a deadline. Make sure your FAFSA is submitted, signed and correct by your state deadline. Visit http://www.studentaid.gov to find your state deadline. Indiana is April 15.

For most people, the FAFSA is a very simple process. The form offers an IRS link that allows a family to import their tax info in seconds. Using this link significantly reduces errors and minimizes being selected for verification. Thirty percent of filers are selected for verification—a process where you must submit additional documentation to the financial aid offices to verify the information on your FAFSA. Don’t worry—just submit the materials requested by the required deadlines and you will be fine.

Whose income should be included on the FAFSA? A student’s and their household’s.

  • If the student’s parents are divorced, it should be the parent who has custody.
  • If divorced parents share joint custody then it should be the parent providing 50% or more support to the child—health insurance, school fees, etc.
  • What if the divorced parents split every cost down the middle? There are 365 days in a year—an odd number so it can’t be split evenly. Who had the child 183 days, who had 182?
  • If the parent being listed on the FAFSA is remarried, the step parent’s income must also be included.
  • Even if the divorce decree says one parent must pay for college, their income doesn’t need to be on the FAFSA if they are not the household parent.
  • It doesn’t matter which parent claims the child on their taxes—it is household.

Many families say they know they won’t qualify so why bother filing a FAFSA. Tragedies happen. Having your FAFSA on file by your state’s deadline allows you to tap into aid if you might need it. I have seen families experience job loss, death, and other situations that resulted in needing a student loan or qualifying for a grant. Financial Aid offices are also given some leeway to make professional judgements for families who have unusual circumstances impacting their income. Talk to your admissions counselor or financial aid office if you have questions.

If you need help with your FAFSA many states have a College Goal Sunday event that offers free help completing your FAFSA. Get Schooled published a helpful list of each state’s FAFSA events https://getschooled.com/article/2632-find-a-fafsa-workshop-near-you.

The FAFSA is a free form (it’s in the name) so do not EVER pay a fee to have it completed. If the website is asking for a credit card to submit, it’s not the correct website.

Keep both the parent login credentials and student login credentials, called your Federal Student Aid ID or FSA ID, because you will need them to file each year your child is in college, as well as to access loans and other federal aid documents. If you have multiple children, the parent FSA ID will be the same but each child will need their own credentials. Go to https://studentaid.gov/apply-for-aid/fafsa/filling-out#creating-an-fsa-id to get started.

Financial Aid professionals at the college where you are applying are your best resource for school specific aid information. Coffman Consulting is happy to help with any general aid questions.

Do I have to take the SAT or ACT?

With so many schools going test optional, do you still need a standardized test score? The answer is yes.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that 1060 college and universities no longer require the SAT or ACT for admission. But there are hundreds of colleges that still do. And even among those that are test optional, their practices vary. I always recommend talking directly to an admission counselor at the college you are applying to get both their policy and to clarify how they put that policy into practice.

Some test optional (TO) colleges still require an SAT or ACT for their scholarship competitions. Other TO colleges and universities may still require it for direct admission into certain competitive majors or honors programs. It is important to not only research the college’s admissions process but also check scholarship and major criteria.

What has been difficult is knowing how a TO school will use your test data if they receive it. Some colleges require you specifically ask for it not to be used. Some colleges will still use it if submitted. Make sure your scores are not on your high school transcript if you do not want them to be part of your official application.

All students should take at least one standardized test. If you can afford it, take both the SAT and ACT at least once. They test different concepts and subjects. Some students find they perform better on one than the other. Take the PSAT or the PreACT in the fall of 10th grade if your high school allows, but definitely by fall of 11th grade. Typically one of these tests is offered at your high school but check with your school counselor if you haven’t heard how to register or when it’s offered.

Colleges license your data from these testing agencies. They will then market their schools and programs to you. While this will significantly increased the email in your inbox—it will also allow you to learn about colleges that offer your career interests and are a good fit for your academic profile. You may get invited to scholarships competitions or invited to apply for specific programs. Read the mail, digital and paper, that colleges send you. A great opportunity may lie in those messages.

Before you take the PSAT or PreACT do some preparation. You can access free test prep offered by College Board in partnership with Khan Academy at https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/practice/khan-academy or ACT’s https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/test-preparation.html to possibly improve your score. Continue that preparation before each additional test to increase your comfort with the exam.

You are more than a score. But putting your best foot forward with a strong score can be helpful. Knowing when and how to share that score data can help strengthen your candidacy. Talk to your school counselor, the college’s admission staff, or to Coffman Consulting if you need advice and guidance on this matter.