Filling out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
According to the College Board's latest figures, the average cost of a public four-year college is $7,605 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students. The average surcharge for full-time out-of-state students at these institutions is $11,990. Private nonprofit four-year colleges charge, on average, $27,293 per year in tuition and fees. Public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,713 per year in tuition and fees.
To help with these soaring costs, most colleges offer financial aid packages including grants, scholarships, loans, and work study opportunities. The first step in applying for available financial aid is completing the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. To apply for federal student financial aid, and to apply for many state student aid programs, students must complete this form, either online or through the mail. The information provided on the FAFSA determines if a student is eligible for financial aid. Additionally, students must renew their FAFSA application each year in college if they apply for financial aid.
The FAFSA is used to calculate the amount of money that the family is expected to be responsible for, referred to as Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The calculation is based on a number of factors, including how many siblings will be in college at the same time, how near parents are to retirement, as well as income. The form is available January 1 of each year and is available on the FAFSA website. Remember that this site is FREE—make sure you are on the official government website. You will need your income tax information for the previous year, and if it is not yet available when you fill out the FAFSA, you can base it on the year before that and amend the form later if necessary.
--NEW! There is now an easier way to provide tax information than in previous years. With just a few simple steps, students and parents who have completed their IRS tax return will be able to view and transfer their tax information into their FAFSA. Additionally, the site can help you estimate your eligibility for federal student aid by answering some basic questions.
You submit one form only and it is sent to all of the schools you indicate. However, different schools have different deadlines for the FAFSA, so it is critical to keep on top of those by contacting each college's financial aid office. Review the FAFSA website carefully before beginning so that you have all the documents on hand and are not blind-sided by any of the questions. You can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at You can call FAFSA at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 319-337-5665.with any questions about the form. There is also live help available on the website.
The FAFSA website lets you know what information you need to get started, how to fill out the form, and how to follow up on the form. It is much less stressful to have all of your ducks in a row before beginning, including the student’s driver’s license number and a copy of the previous year’s tax return, among other items. Be sure to keep you password in a secure place and remember where it is! Deadline dates vary depending on state and school, and you will these on the web site as well.
An important warning: The FAFSA information and forms are official government forms, so be sure to access the official FAFSA website. There are some misleading website with similar names that will charge fees. There is never a fee to fill out the FAFSA or to request information.
Students from outside the U.S. applying to schools in the United States should read the information provided by www.finaid.org regarding the FASFA: http://www.edupass.org/finaid/fafsa.phtml