What Do Students Need to Know About the FAFSA?

Like an author writing a book, a curriculum developer also starts their process with that all too intimidating “blank sheet of paper.”  That is one of my favorite aspects of helping build out NextGen’s Personal Finance curriculum.  I usually start the process by thinking “what are the most important takeaways that students should have after completing this lesson on….” So, knee-deep in the Paying for College unit, I thought that given its importance, FAFSA deserved it’s own lesson.  

Here are the key questions, I hope students can answer after completing this lesson…

  • Why is it so, so, so important?:  No FAFSA = No Aid. FAFSA serves as gateway to federal financial aid (grants, loans, work-study) and by the way, most states and universities will use the results of FAFSA in their need determination too.   
  • What is it’s purpose?  The FAFSA collects information on your family’s financial situation and based on formulas, and produces a number called Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This determines your level of financial need, so the lower the EFC the more financial need you have.  
  • What do I need to complete it?  In order to optimize the process, be sure to have the necessary information (checklist is provided) handy to complete the FAFSA in less than an hour.  If you are a dependent, your families will need to complete it.   
  • Is there a deadline?  You want to file as soon after January 1st as possible.  Even if you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you can use estimates and just update later.
  • What does it cost to complete the FAFSA?  There is no cost to filing the FAFSA.  It is the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid after all.  Website is fafsa.ed.gov.  
  • Is the FAFSA the only form needed to receive aid?  Check with your school to see if they also require that you complete the CSS Profile, which is another form to calculate.
  • What if my parents don’t want to complete it?  The lesson will provide common objections to completing the FAFSA and how to overcome them.  
  • What if I have an unusual family situation?  I will provide a list of resources, places to go to find information.  

Any other ideas?