SEFCU logo

The mission of the Institute for Financial Well-Being is to guide and encourage individuals to focus on achieving economic stability - using innovative tools, making informed decisions, and encouraging positive habits.

Log In

The mission of the Institute for Financial Well-Being is to guide and encourage individuals to focus on achieving economic stability - using innovative tools, making informed decisions, and encouraging positive habits.

The mission of the Institute for Financial Well-Being is to guide and encourage individuals to focus on achieving economic stability - using innovative tools, making informed decisions, and encouraging positive habits.

Applying for Aid

In this topic, we cover:

  • What the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is.
  • When and how to look for scholarships.
  • How to fill the gap between what you can afford with cash and the cost of attending school.


 

The aid process can seem overwhelming at times, but there are only three major steps.

  • Step 1: Complete the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an online form that any student seeking federal (and other need-based aid) must complete. The form is found at StudentAid.gov or you can download the myStudentAid mobile app.
  • Step 2: Look for Scholarships. Seek out and apply for grants and scholarships, ideally one to two years before beginning college. If you have the time to complete the applications, you have nothing to lose applying for this free aid.
  • Step 3: Fill the Gap. After you apply for need-based aid and scholarships, any other money for college must come from you and your family. This money could come from savings, additional student loans, working while in school, or a combination.

Of these steps, completing the FAFSA is by far the most important. The government requires the FAFSA for anyone seeking federal aid and virtually every school also requires the FAFSA for determining institutional aid.

Understanding the FAFSA
Administered by the Department of Education, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid provides the government and financial aid offices with crucial information about the financial status of each student and, for dependent students, their family's financial situation. Based on government calculations, you'll be given an official Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that helps schools determine your eligibility for grants, subsidized loans, and college-sponsored aid.

The FAFSA can be filed online through the StudentAid.gov website or you can use the myStudentAid app. Before you get started, you'll also want to create a an FSA ID - an online account you can use for signing loan contracts and for accessing your federal aid information. Unless you're considered a financially independent student, a parent will also find it convenient to create a FSA ID.

You'll need the following information and documents to complete the FAFSA:

  • Your Social Security Number and your parent's Social Security Number (if dependent)
  • Your driver's license number (if you have a license)
  • Recent federal tax returns for you and your parents (if dependent)
  • Records of any untaxed income for you and your parents (if dependent)
  • Information on financial assets such as savings account balances and investments for you and your parents (if dependent)

With dozens of detailed financial questions, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with the FAFSA process. If you need help, the FAFSA website offers help via online chat, phone, and email. Your school's financial aid office may also be able to help. If you are confused or unsure about the FAFSA, it's important to seek help - mistakes will delay the aid process or even cause you to receive the wrong amount of aid.

You should complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 in the calendar year before you hope to receive aid. It's a good idea to complete the FAFSA as early as possible, keeping a close eye on filing deadlines for your state and school. Many sources of aid are given out on a first come first served basis, so it is extremely important not to miss a deadline.

The FAFSA must be updated each year for as long as you receive federal aid.

The Student Aid Report
After submitting the FAFSA, your Student Aid Report will be available in a few days - you'll get an email notification with a link to login to your My FAFSA page. This report includes your Expected Family Contribution and states all the figures from the FAFSA that were used in calculating your Expected Family Contribution. The report will also be sent to the schools you listed on your form.

The first thing to do when reviewing your Student Aid Report is to check it for errors. If an error was made, it may be more difficult to qualify for aid. On the other hand, if the errors cause you to receive too much aid, you could be penalized later.

Please keep in mind that schools have formulas for calculating financial aid that may yield a different Expected Family Contribution. Schools may also require additional documentation of income and assets. If so, the school may as you to complete the CSS PROFILE. A service of the College Board, the CSS PROFILE collects somewhat different information when compared with the FAFSA and is used for determining eligibility for some school-based aid. If you are unsure whether the schools you are applying to require the CSS PROFILE, you can find a list of participating schools on the College Board website.

Reapplying for Federal Aid
Just when you thought you were done, there's one more thing to keep in mind. While the policies of private loan lenders will vary, any student taking out federal loans must reapply for financial aid each year.

Luckily, the re-application process if often easier than completing the FAFSA for the first time. Many students are eligible to complete a Renewal FAFSA, which already includes much of the required information. Using the Renewal FAFSA is optional and you can choose to file a completely new FAFSA each year if you prefer. Some schools also allow you to reapply for federal aid through their financial aid offices, making the process even easier.