Wouldn’t it be awesome to graduate debt-free with a college degree!?!? For most of us, this is more fantasy than reality, especially with the rising costs of a college education. However, there are things you can do right now – as a current student or even before you’re admitted – that can make a huge difference in your student loan debt over the course of your time in school. The obvious things include following a sound budget, working while you’re in school and borrowing only the amount you need to pay your tuition and purchase books (even though most schools offer the maximum and require that you adjust the amount you’re willing to accept). Those things work! They are tried and true, but there is also something else you can do – it’s as simple as filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early.
The Ins & Outs of the FAFSA
Every college student should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), including those who are still waiting on their letters of acceptance. The FAFSA requires you to answer questions about your income and assets (for dependent students it also requires information about your parents’ income and assets). The answers you provide, along with IRS documentation, will help the federal government determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC indicates the amount of money that the government expects you and your parent(s) to be able to pay toward your college education for the upcoming academic year. If your estimated cost of attendance (COA) exceeds your EFC, you may qualify for need-based loans (which are subsidized while you’re in school and have lower interests rates after you graduate) and/or grants to help pay your college bills.
Even if you feel that you do not qualify for need-based assistance or have enough to cover tuition, you should still file the FAFSA. The FAFSA is required in order for you to take a federal school loan of any kind, and it is also required for students who wish to work on campus.
“Filing early is especially important for those who hope to qualify for grants and/or student employment. Grants are awarded to qualifying students on a first-come, first-served basis. When the funds are depleted the level of need is not considered, which means an early application can mean the difference in qualifying for federal college grants such as Pell, FSEOG, and TEACH grant, as well as state grants, such as the KHEAA CAP grant,” said Cindy Troutman, program manager for WKU Online.
You can file your FAFSA as early as January 1 of the year you intend to enter school. For those hoping to get started in Fall 2015 – your FAFSA awaits! You’ll have to repeat the process each year as you pursue your education, but the first application you fill out is the most cumbersome. Below is a list of items you’ll need to complete your application. The more organized you are when you start the process, the more smoothly it will go.
What You’ll Need
- Social Security number
- Driver’s license (if available)
- Your tax forms (don’t worry if they aren’t complete yet—you can use estimated numbers now and adjust them later if needed)
- Your parents’ tax forms (again, using estimated figures is OK for now)
- Records of untaxed income, such as payments to tax-deferred savings plans, child support, veterans benefits, or workers’ compensation
- Current bank statements
- Information about any businesses you or your family own, investment mortgage information, business and farm records, and other investment records
This sounds like a lot, yes! It’s not as bad as it seems, because there is easily accessed help along the way. You can even access a practice worksheet at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The worksheet will allow you to do a practice run, so you can see the process before you officially get started. You can fill the FAFSA out as early as January 1, but anytime in January helps to ensure that you’re among the first group considered for aid.
Steps to Getting Started
- Pull the required documents together, which are outlined above.
- File your FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov (the school code for WKU is 002002)
- Speed the processing of your FAFSA by signing the form electronically with a Personal Identification Number (PIN). Follow the steps outlined at fafsa.ed.gov to request a PIN or visit pin.ed.gov – the process is simple. Also, if you’re a dependent student, one parent must register for a PIN as well, since the application will also require a parent’s signature. in order to sign the FAFSA electronically.
Once you file your FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that contains your EFC. If you provided a valid e-mail address at the time of your application, you’ll receive your SAR by e-mail. You can also view it online. Your SAR and EFC will be sent to the schools you listed on your FAFSA. These schools will offer you financial aid packages based on the results of your application.
- WKU Student Financial Assistance
- WKU Scholarship Information, including scholarships for transfer students: http://www.wku.edu/scholarship/
- Guide to Financial Aid: http://www.finaid.org
- FAFSA Worksheets, Tips and Pointers: https://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out
- Student Aid: Types of aid, who qualifies and how to apply: https://studentaid.ed.gov
- Scholarships: How to find them, how to apply, and types of scholarships: https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/finding-scholarshipsWKU Scholarship Information, including scholarships for transfer students: http://www.wku.edu/scholarship/