If you’re applying to college for the first time, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA, can look extremely intimidating and be utterly confusing to fill out. Heck, even if you’re entering your third year of secondary education it can be intimidating and confusing! Are you asking yourself, “Do I even need to fill this out?” or, “Am I actually going to get any kind of aid out of this? Think of all the people applying for college around the country!” Well, yes you do need to fill out your FAFSA and yes, more than likely you WILL get some type of financial aid! For those that are apprehensive about FAFSA, we put together some questions and answers to try and put your mind at ease about the subject:

Q:  Why Do I Need to File a FAFSA?

A:  If you plan on collecting any type of financial aid, you’ll need to fill out and submit your FAFSA. Many colleges, universities and states use your FAFSA to determine whether or not you’re applicable for state and college funded financial aid, like loans, grants, work studies and other awards.

Q:  What If I Don’t Qualify for Financial Aid?

A:  Even if you’re under the impression that your family earns too much money to qualify for financial aid, or if you don’t think financial aid will make enough of a difference to allow you to go to college, you should still fill out your FAFSA.  No matter what your family earns, most students are entitled to some type of financial reward. Incoming students are frequently shocked by the amount of aid they’re eligible for and the difference it can actually make when it comes to affording college.

Q:  When Should I File My FAFSA?

A:  The earlier you submit your FAFSA, the better. Each university and college has a different filing due date. Since financial aid has its limitations, awards are often given  on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you have your FAFSA submitted, the greater chance you have at getting as much aid as possible.

Q:  Can I Submit the Day of the Deadline?

A:  In short, it depends. For those filing through mail, you’ll need to take into consideration how long it will take for your application to be delivered, then add on the two to three weeks it will take to process that application. For those applying online via the Department of Education’s website, you need to give yourself enough time to be issued a personal identification number from the Federal Student Aid office so you’re able to sign in to your account.

Q:  What If We Haven’t Submitted Our Taxes?

A:  You should still fill out your FAFSA even if you haven’t  filed your taxes yet. By using your W-2, pay stubs and bank statement, you can estimate your yearly earnings. Once you’ve received your Student Aid Reports (SAR) you can make adjustments as needed. You will not be penalized for estimating your income on your FAFSA, but it’s required for you to make the proper changes once you’ve completed your taxes. It’s in your best interest to file your FAFSA on time with an estimate so you can get as much aid possible rather than to miss the deadline and miss out on your financial aid.

Q:  How Long Will It Take to File My FAFSA?

A:  When you use the Department of Education’s FAFSA website, the application process usually takes an hour or two. You will also have to register for a PIN when filling out the online application. This will add a few days waiting period to your submitting process. For those filing their paperwork out the old fashion way, you do not need a PIN, but you will have to account for mailing time and the one to two weeks it takes to process your application.

Q:  Am I a Dependent or Independent Student?

A:  The Department of Education is stringent in its decisions between who is and is not considered dependent when applying for financial aid. An independent student applies for financial aid without taking their parents’ salary and assets into consideration when deciding their financial aid awards. To figure out the specifics of dependency, visit the Department of Education under FAFSA Dependency. Regardless of how much your parents are helping you financially, you’re likely considered a dependent when it comes to financial aid. If you find yourself in a situation that warrants special consideration, reach out to your school’s financial aid office. If you are considered an independent, you do not need to include your parents information on your FAFSA.

Q:  Whose Financial Info Do I Use If My Parents Are Re-married, Divorced or Widowed?

A:  To help you determine whose information you should use, follow these easy tips: -If your parents are still married and both alive, use both of their information in your FAFSA. -A single or widowed parent should have their information used. -For divorced parents, use the information of whatever parent you live with most. This parent is referred to as the custodial parent. If your parents have equally shared custody, use the information of whichever parent will provide more for you financially. -For widowed, re-married parents, provide both your parent’s information and their new partner’s information. Their partner is referred to as the step-parent. If your step-parent is currently paying child support for another child, be sure to include that information as an income exclusion.

Q:  Can I Change My FAFSA If I Make a Mistake?

A:  If you’re using the Department of Education’s online portal to fill out your application, you can log in and make as many changes as you want before submitting it. However, once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you’ll have to wait until it is processed and a Student Aid Report (SAR) is produced to log back in and make any new changes. Once your FAFSA has been processed by SAR you can make changes a few different ways.
  • Make a list of corrections and mail it into the SAR. You’ll receive and updated SAR in two to three weeks.
  • Using your PIN, log on to the Department of Education and update it there. A new SAR will be emailed to you after about three days.
  • If you’re trying to add a college or change your mailing address, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243. Give them your Data Release Number (DRN), this number is on your SAR. With this information they can help you update your FAFSA.
  • The financial aid office at your school can also make changes to your FAFSA or SAR with your DRN.

Q:  When Will I Know How Much Financial Aid I’ll Be Receiving?

A:  You receive your financial aid number in a document called the Financial Aid Award Notice. They begin sending these out in spring. You can also call your school to get the exact date they’ll be dispersing these notices. You do need to be accepted before they consider you for financial aid.

Q:  Will I Be Told If My Application Is Rejected?

A:  On your SAR next to the acronym EFC, a.k.a. Expected Family Contribution, you’ll see a series of number. If there are no numbers here, your application was not accepted. If you see a C, that means you need to make corrections.

Q:  Where Can I Find the Status of my Application?

A:  You can check on the status of your application by logging into your FAFSA account, calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243 or you can contact your school directly.