FAFSA 101

What is Financial Aid?

How Do I Apply For Financial Aid?

Step 1 – Gather Up Your Documents

Everyone who applies for federal financial aid must fill out and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form.  Before you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll need to gather up some of your personal information for reference as you complete the FAFSA.  Here’s a list of some of some documents that will be helpful to have on hand.

Step 2 – Fill Out The FAFSA

The very first step in applying for financial aid is to fill out and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form.  You can do this one of two ways:

  • Electronic FAFSA – edit, complete, and submit the FAFSA online (processes in 3-5 days)
  • Paper FAFSA – download a printable copy of the FAFSA, which you must complete and mail in (processes in 7-10 days)

Step 3 – Wait for Your SAR

After you’ve submitted your FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent both to you and the prospective colleges you have listed.  Here’s what to look for on your SAR:

  • As the SAR summarizes the information you submitted on your FAFSA, check your SAR carefully to ensure all the data is correct and keep a copy for your records.
  • Your SAR will contain a Data Release Number (DRN), which you will need if and when you call the Federal Student Aid Information Center to change any information on your application; for example, you may want to add or delete a school code.
  • Your SAR will also contain an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC).  Your school will use the EFC when awarding you your financial aid.  It’s important to know that your EFC is not the exact amount of money you and your family will have to contribute for your college education nor is it the exact amount of federal student aid you will be awarded.  It is simply a number that your college will use to calculate the amount of federal student aid you are eligible to receive.  Remember: borrow smart!  When it comes to federal loans, it may not always be wise to borrow all that you are eligible for.

How Will I Receive My Financial Aid?

What Will I Be Awarded?

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  • After you’ve completed and submitted your FAFSA and received your SAR, your individual school will award you a financial aid package, which may include federal loans, grants, and campus-based programs, such as work-study.
  • Your financial aid package will be an aid to your financial need, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as “the difference between the school’s cost of attendance (including living expenses) and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).”
  • In addition, if you feel (based on unusual or unaccounted for circumstances) that you require more aid, your school’s financial aid office may be able to assist you further.

? Who Will Award My Financial Aid?

  • You will receive your federal student aid directly from your school, NOT from the federal government.
  • Your aid awards will be disbursed to you by your school periodically, such as every semester or quarter.  Often, your school will first apply your aid towards tuition, fees, and housing for students who live on campus; the remainder of your aid will likely then be paid directly to you for other school- and living-related expenses.

Remember: it’s usually required that you fill out and submit a new FAFSA every year, as your financial aid package may change depending on changes such as the economic status of you and your family.

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