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Understanding the FAFSA: Helping to Fund College


The cost of college can be daunting. Tuition and fees vary from state to state and the price for higher education costs more than it did in previous generations. While the cost of college is highly dependent on the choices made by each family-in-state vs. out-of-state, public vs. private, and community college vs. university, financial aid can help cover higher education expenses. Since different types of financial aid can help to lower the amount you are expected to pay out-of-pocket, understanding how to access the largest source of financial aid is a must.

What is the FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available to all students to help cover the cost of a college education. The FAFSA offers grants that are given, loans that are borrowed, and work-study funds that are earned. What’s more, the information from the FAFSA is also used by many states and schools to aid in the distribution of state and institutional funds. The U.S. Department of Education redesigned and simplified the FAFSA in preparation for the 2024-2025 Award Year, making it easier for students and families to fill out the form online in less time.

Since financial aid is limited and can run out, it is imperative that students and families meet the application deadlines. Keep in mind that Federal deadlines may be different from deadlines imposed at the state level as well as deadlines set up by each college and career/trade school. Inquire with the schools of interest to confirm application deadlines to avoid missing out on funds that may be available to you as a student.

Completing the FAFSA

FAFSA typically opens in October of each school year. While students have until June 30 of the following year to submit an application, the sooner the form is completed, the better positioned you can be to meet state and school deadlines. The redesigned FAFSA form allows students to add up to 20 schools that they are considering regardless of whether an application has been sent or an acceptance letter has been received. The student will need to submit the FAFSA each year they are enrolled in higher education.

The interactive FAFSA form will help students new to the form to identify contributors to the FAFSA form. Contributors will be required to submit their information and give consent for the IRS to transfer tax information directly to the U.S. Department of Education. Standard information needed for each contributor includes full name, social security number, birthdate, and email address.

Preparing to Pay for Higher Education

Once the FAFSA has been submitted, schools will use the information to determine the aid each student may be eligible to receive. The FAFSA will calculate and make available to each student, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This calculation is used by financial aid offices to determine student financial need. For schools that are unable to meet full financial need-the cost of attendance less EFC-students may need to seek other means to fill the gap. Scholarship money is an option. Scholarships are widely available through college financial aid offices, high school counselors, and local business and community foundations. Since the schools, and not the U.S. Department of Education, are responsible for disbursing any aid, it is good practice to ensure the schools on your list have all the information they need, and whether any additional documentation is required before they send out an aid offer. While it is possible to submit corrections on the FAFSA form for certain fields, significant changes in family and financial situation should be addressed with the financial aid office for which you are requesting acceptance.

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This article contains general information only. Sunflower Bank is not, by means of this article, rendering accounting, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This article is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, before making any decisions related to these matters, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.