UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form you need to fill out to get any financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college. Each year, over 13 million students who file the FAFSA get more than $120 billion in grants, work-study, and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education.

Filing the FAFSA isn’t as complicated or time-consuming as it sounds – a little preparation will help make the process go smoothly. Before you can submit your FAFSA, you’ll need to create your FSA ID. You’ll need an FSA ID to log in to your account, sign the FAFSA and make changes or add schools. You and your parent must create separate FSA IDs.

Our Office of Financial Aid will work with you to ensure you have access to the resources you need to pay for college. Our goal is to make sure all qualified applicants can invest in an education here. If you have any questions about financial aid, need help filling out the FAFSA or encounter special financial circumstances your family is experiencing due to COVID, please call us at (319) 352-8262 or email us.

FAFSA Facts and Fiction: Get the Truth – and the Money You Need for College

Don’t let misconceptions about the FAFSA prevent you from getting the money you need for college. Here’s the truth behind some questions you might have about filling out this critical financial aid form:

Fiction: I need a computer to file the FAFSA.
Fact: You can file your FAFSA on your phone with the myStudentAid app! It’s free at the Apple App Store (iOS) or the Google Play store (Android). You can also request a form be sent to you so you can mail it back in by calling 1-800-4FED-AID.

Fiction: I need to pay a fee to file the FAFSA.
Fact: Filing the FAFSA is free – it’s right there in the name! Avoid any website or mobile app that requires a payment – that means it isn’t the official FAFSA site or the official myStudentAid app.

Fiction: It takes a really long time to fill out the FAFSA.
Fact: The average time to complete a FAFSA is only 22-30 minutes. Here’s a worksheet you can use to get an idea of what the form looks like and what information it asks for. There’s also lots of help available – even a FAFSA YouTube channel!

Fiction: The FAFSA asks for a lot of information and I won’t be able to find it.
Fact: The information the FAFSA collects includes things you can easily access, like your Social Security number, bank statements and driver’s license. You don’t even have to have your tax forms on hand: there’s a tool that can pull them in automatically for you! See a checklist of the information you need to file the FAFSA.

Fiction: I need both parents’ information to complete the FAFSA.
Fact: It depends. There are many situations when you only need one parent’s information to complete the FAFSA – and you might not even need that. The FAFSA considers many different family situations, and so will your college’s financial aid office. Learn more about parent involvement.

Fiction: I don’t need to fill out the FAFSA.
Fact: The FAFSA not only enables you to apply for federal grants and low-interest loans, it’s also the form that states and individual colleges use to determine your need-based aid. Check the FAFSA submission deadline for your state here.

Fiction: My family must have filed their tax returns before I can file the FAFSA.
Fact: You can use what’s called “prior-prior year” taxes to complete the FAFSA. That means that for the 2021 FAFSA, you use 2019 information.

Fiction: I need to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible for financial aid.
Fact: Students who fall into certain non-citizen statuses are eligible for federal financial aid. See a list here. Your parents’ citizenship does NOT impact your eligibility. For information on financial aid options for DACA recipients, click here.It’s so important not to let false impressions steer you away from filing the FAFSA – this form is the key to getting the money you need to attend college. If you’re confused about something you hear or read, contact your school’s financial aid office and they’ll set the record straight!

Six Items and 22 Minutes: All You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA

Filing the FAFSA isn’t as complicated or time-consuming as it seems – you only need about six documents and 22 minutes! So in the time it takes you to catch up on your Instagram feed, you can take the critical first step in getting the money you need to attend college!

Here’s a checklist of everything you and your parent need to fill out, sign and submit the FAFSA:

  • An FSA ID. Your FSA ID allows you to log in to your account, sign the FAFSA and make changes or add schools. You and your parent must create separate FSA IDs. Create this first!
  • You and your parent’s Social Security or Alien Registration number. Here’s what to do if your parent doesn’t have a Social Security number.
  • Driver’s license (if you have one)
  • Your and your parent’s federal income tax returns and W-2s from 2019 (you can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import this data!)
  • Bank statement
  • If applicable, other records of money earned, and records of investments and untaxed income

Don’t worry if you can’t find these materials right away: you can start the FAFSA and come back as many times as you need to update information or add schools. The important thing is to get started!

Want to know more? Use this worksheet to get a sneak preview of what the form looks like and the questions it asks, and check out the FAFSA YouTube channel for step-by-step instructions on creating an FSA ID and filling out the form. Your school’s financial aid office will help you with any questions you have at any time in the process, so don’t hesitate to contact them as well.

File your FAFSA now!

Job Loss and the FAFSA: Three Steps to Take When Your Family Finances Shift

If you have lost your job or your parent has lost theirs, your FAFSA might not tell the whole story – or the most current one – about your family’s financial situation.Financial aid offices understand this and they’ll work with you through this unsettling situation. You’re not alone!If this happens to you, follow these three steps to getting the most funding for college:

  1. File your FAFSA.
    1. Import or use information from 2019 taxes as you would under normal circumstances.
    2. The parent filing a FAFSA should list themselves as a “displaced worker” if they:
      1. receive unemployment benefits due to being laid off or losing a job
      2. have been laid off or received a layoff notice from a job
      3. were self-employed but are now unemployed due to economic conditions

For more information on displaced worker status, click here.If you’ve already submitted the FAFSA, the process is the same: contact your college immediately and follow the steps they outline.Your parents’ receiving unemployment doesn’t impact your eligibility for federal financial aid.

  1. Contact the school you plan to attend/schools to which you’ve been accepted and let them know that you’ve had a change in circumstances – ASAP. They’ll walk you through the process for having your aid package reviewed.
  1. Provide all the documents and information they ask for.

Here’s a link to our special circumstances forms.

Financial Aid Vocab Cheat Sheet

Financial aid has a language all its own – one with lots of acronyms and industry-specific terms that can sound scary. This glossary will take some of the mystery out of these terms and help you make the best decisions about your awards.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The amount that the federal government believes your family can contribute to one year of college. Colleges use this, among other things, to determine financial need.

Cost of Attendance (COA): An estimate of how much it costs to attend a college. The COA includes the price of tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies and other expenses associated with attending that school. Learn about our COA here.

Financial need: The difference between Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and a college’s Cost of Attendance (COA).

Net price: How much it will cost you to attend a college for one year after your scholarships and grants, loans and work-study are subtracted from the COA. Use our Net Price Calculator to estimate your net price.

Student Aid Report (SAR): This report shows you what data is on your FAFSA, some information about the aid for which you’re eligible and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). See a sample SAR here.

Subsidized loan: A need-based loan on which you don’t pay interest while you’re in school.

Unsubsidized loan: A loan for which you don’t have to demonstrate financial need. You’re responsible for all the interest on this type of loan.

Scholarship/grant: A monetary gift that doesn’t have to be repaid. It can be one-time or renewable, and based on grades, talents or other criteria.

Work-study: A part-time job for students with financial need.Find out more about our work study options.

You can contact your school’s financial aid office at any time if you need some help understanding terms like these. They’ll be happy to help you translate them!

For more common terms you’ll see throughout the financial aid process, check out this glossary from the Department of Education.

File your FAFSA now!