The Free Application for Federal Student Aid was designed to make life easier for students and parents applying for all governmental college tuition aid. In practice, it may seem like anything but. Playbill is here to help.
As part of Playbill's Back to School week (#BwayBacktoSchool), PlaybillEDU walked through the process of completing a FAFSA with actual performing arts students and prepared a real-world guide on how to navigate your way to financial aid.
First off, timing is important. Filing is open beginning October 1. The pool of aid money is limited, so you are well advised to file as soon after the New Year as possible. The final deadline for filing for Fall 2018 will be June 2018, but many individual schools have deadlines far earlier than that, generally in February or mid March. This earlier filing may allow students to know their aid amount before committing to a school. Check the schools to which you are applying on PlaybillEDU. Additionally, students are now allowed to report taxes from an earlier year. So for the 2018-2019 year, you can report taxes from 2017.
Overwhelmingly, most colleges and universities use the FAFSA process to determine who gets financial aid and how much (though some have withdrawn in recent years). Millions of dollars in aid are available, paid for by your taxes, so it is in your interest to apply for your share. Applying for FAFSA is free. Application takes place entirely on the web, at Fafsa.gov. The process closely resembles filling out a tax return. Some people actually hire accountants to do it for them, but most students can do it themselves, or with some help from parents, guardians or other financially savvy friends. PlaybillEDU will walk you through it step by step, below:
Before You Start:
1. Have a copy of tis year's income tax returns, as well as those from last year, as well as those of your parents. If you (or they) have already filed for the current year, there is a way to import much of the information directly from the IRS database. You can even use last year’s tax information to fill out this year’s FAFSA application, though you will have to file an update once your new tax documents are filed.
2. Keep in mind that the FAFSA is designed to be filled out by the STUDENT. All the directions are worded using “you” to mean the student. If you are a student filling out the FAFSA for yourself, no problem. But if you are a parent filling out FAFSA for your child, you must engage in a bit of acting and remember that “you” means your child. If FAFSA asks you how much you earned last year, that means how much YOUR CHILD earned last year. Confused? Fafsa.gov has created a video to help.
3. Have a list of the colleges to which you are applying. If you are applying to a state system with many branches, make sure you have the name of the correct branch. For example, “Indiana University” is not enough; you need to specify Bloomington, South Bend, or whichever of the other branches you hope to attend. You can research more than 2,000 performing arts programs on PlaybillEDU.
4. Create a hard-copy manila folder or a master file on your desktop where you will copy down and store all PIN numbers, passwords, college code numbers, confirmation numbers, and phone help numbers. There will be lots of them and they will be easy to forget. Save this folder in a safe place because you will need to re-apply for FAFSA every year and will need to have all these same numbers at hand. Take a moment to write or type each of these down as you go along.
5. One last thing before you begin filling out FAFSA: You will eventually need to “sign” your application. This can be done electronically, but you will need to go to the website pin.ed.gov and apply for a four digit PIN number. You will need your date of birth and Social Security number. Confirmation of the PIN can be emailed to you. It usually happens immediately, but sometimes takes a day or so. Budget extra time for this.
6. Once you have your documents, your college names, your PIN number, and your master information folder, you’re ready to fill out FAFSA.
Filling Out FAFSA
1. Make sure you are on Fafsa.gov, NOT fafsa-application.com or one of the other commercial sites that will charge you.
2. Click on the green “Start a New FAFSA” button on the left.
3. Fill in basic information about the student’s full legal name (no nicknames), date of birth and Social Security number. If that is you, fine. If you are a parent or other friend or relative of the student, a quick reminder that “you” from now on will be the student.
4. Click application year. If applying for next fall, click on 2018-2019.
5. Fill in the student’s address. Make sure this is an address where you can receive actual snail mail because some of their notifications still come that way. Similarly, make sure their email address is something the student will still be using next year, not a temporary high school email.
6. Make a password, 4-8 characters. This should be different from your PIN created previously. Save this somewhere you will not lose it.
7. Clicking “Next” at the bottom of each page saves what you have done. If you need to stop filling in at any time, click the “Save” button at the bottom of the page, and it will retain everything you have done so far.
8. Start to type in the name of your first college. The database uses six-digit code numbers for various schools. Use the Search button, and the database will auto-load the code number for you. A list of schools will appear on the left of the screen; choose one by clicking in the box next to the name, then the “Add” button in the middle of the screen.
9. This will transfer that school to the column on the right. FAFSA will apply only to the schools listed in the right hand column. You can list up to ten schools. It will list the school with its code number. Type the code number into the box labeled Federal School Code. Save these numbers in your folder. If you forget, all these codes are also listed on PlaybillEDU.
10. Let them know if you plan to live on campus, off campus, or with your parents. They’re not being nosy; they use these costs to help determine how much they think you can afford.
11. List the student’s marital status, where the student went to high school, and information about the student’s parents.
12. Pull out your tax forms and copy over information on your income, assets and liabilities, as prompted by the website. The FAFSA helpfully tells you which line on your tax return contains each piece of info it needs.
13. If the FAFSA asks you whether you have registered for Selective Service, keep in mind that most male students of potential draft age must be registered in order to receive FAFSA aid. This can be done automatically while applying for FAFSA.
14. Click "yes" for work study, because this is another opportunity to get extra aid.
15. Suddenly you will find yourself on the last page. You can print out the form, sign it, and mail it in, but it is much easier to “sign” electronically using the PIN number you applied for at pin.ed.gov back at the beginning. Applications filed online are processed immediately. Those mailed in may take up to ten days to process.
16. The confirmation page also prompts you to apply to TAP (New York State only) and other state-run tuition aid programs (where applicable) to get even more aid money.
17. Click the “Complete” button. Information will be sent to the schools you specified, each of which has its own income guidelines. They will use the FAFSA info to decide whether you are eligible or not for grants, work study, and federal loans, and for how much.
18. If you used your 2017 income tax form to apply, don’t forget to sign back in to FAFSA with your password to update your information as soon as you file your 2018 taxes. You may be eligible for more aid.
19. If you have a problem or prefer to fill out a paper version of FAFSA, you can order one by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center toll-free at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You can also print them from the Fafsa.gov website.
20. Note that FAFSA does not cover every type of financial aid. If you find that the school of your choice offers not enough aid, or no aid at all, you may wish to apply separately for commercial loans and private or local scholarships. Those applications are not covered by FAFSA.
Did you run into problems not covered by this list? Fafsa.gov has a troubleshooting page.
Still confused? Fafsa.gov has created a complete walkthrough video for filling out FAFSA.
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