October Forms Can Be Scary for Seniors

College Applications and FAFSA Begin in October

It is that time again. Leaves fall from the trees. Clocks fall back to save daylight. Seniors fall into step to meet deadlines for colleges and the dreaded Fafsa.
The FAFSA, to some, is scarier than any Steven King movie ever imagined and worse than any nightmare, on Elm Street or any other. But, just because October celebrates All Hollow’s Eve and Dia De Los Muertes, the FAFSA does not have to be so scary. It just takes a little knowledge and a lot of patience.
The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened on Oct. 1. And whether college is a trick or a treat, you should fill it out.
And then there is scarry, part 2. It is a government form. But, no trickery, it is free. And, if you plan on applying for any type of aide (awards based or needs-based) this form is the first step- no way around it. As if the timing and the task itself weren’t enough, add COVID-19 for a real horror show — but with the varying income during the pandemic, there could be a light in that Jack-o-Lantern. Income is key to needs-based awards and to getting free application waivers. The FAFSA always relies on the taxes from the previous year — that’s just how the federal form works. This year, that gives an unrealistic picture of lots of families’ finances, because so many people have lost jobs and income due to COVID-19. If you’re in this situation, you’re not alone and colleges know that. Fill out the FAFSA — but then reach out to the colleges you’re considering. Tell them the current situation. Colleges know these calls are coming and are ready to adjust financial aid offers. But, they can’t help if you don’t fill out the form. So do it now.

Before you start the FAFSA, you’ll need to make a Federal Student Aid ID. This is a username and password that serve as your online signature when you’re filling out aid forms through the federal government. Your parents have to make a separate id for themselves (yes, welcome to adulting) Create an FSA ID here.

Next, be prepared. Have your social security number (or permanent resident card) within reach and have your 2019 federal tax returns for you and your parents. The FAFSA starts by asking demographic questions about you, your family and your high school — and then it is on to financial questions. Don’t worry, the information is private and it is meant to serve as a tool to gain you assistance. It relies on last year’s tax data for much of this information. The form automatically pulls that information from the IRS, but it’s helpful if you can have the taxes accessible while you’re filling it out just in case.

The FAFSA will allow a list of up to 10 schools that you’re interested in attending, and the federal government will send your information to these schools. The schools you choose, not the government, will contact you once the application is processed. They will discuss with you how much financial aid you may automatically get or potentially qualify for, including grants, scholarships (which you don’t have to pay back!) and loans.

Lots of schools determine financial aid on a rolling basis, so you could hear back in a few weeks — and some more selective schools won’t let students know their financial aid package until their admission results come back in the spring.

Still waiting? Stop. Go to this website to fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA opened up on Oct. 1, and it will close on June 30, 2021. That’s a big window to apply for financial aid — but if you already know you’re thinking about college next fall, you should go ahead and fill out the application now. Applying earlier could make a big difference in the funds that you get — and you’ll want to know how much financial aid you’ll receive before you make a decision about where to go.

If you need more aid to attend the school you’re most interested in, you should reach out to the financial aid office and let them know. Nothing is final in this process, and they may be able to provide more money for you — or even suggest scholarships you can apply for to make it work. You’ll never get that extra cash unless you ask. AND FILL OUT THE FORM!