Planning matters

FAFSA: The Key Piece of the College Aid Puzzle

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA, is your one-stop-shop for applying for federal, state, and even university aid. Types of aid include grants, scholarships, student loans, and student employment. If you or your children are thinking of attending a college or university in the next academic year, now is the time to get working on this essential form.

As the name implies the form is free to fill out and can be filed as early as October 1st of the year preceding the year you’ll be starting school. For example, if you or your child intend to start collegiate courses in the Fall of 2021, your FAFSA window is already open (and has been since October 1). Your deadline to file is June 30 of the academic year, or the last day of your intended school’s enrollment. However, this is cutting it very close and could reduce your chances at receiving the greatest amount of aid.

Students who file the FAFSA in the first three months (October through December) tend to receive double the grants, on average, compared to those who file later. This is because some types of aid, such as Federal Work Study funding, are allotted to colleges and universities as a set amount. First-come, first-served.

Some state grant programs, including in Washington and Oregon, encourage FAFSA filers to submit their application soon as you can, as they award grants as soon as possible, until they’re depleted. For a look at how your state handles deadlines for state aid, check out the “FAFSA Deadlines” section of the Federal Student Aid’s website here.

Considering private education? You’ll want to check out the CollegeBoard’s list of schools that use what’s called the CSS Profile, an additional form that allows you to apply for aid specific to those institutions.

If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of beginning the FAFSA process, you’re not alone. The form can feel intimidating, especially your first time. Take a step back, breathe, and begin with the following steps:

  1. Get a basic understanding of the FAFSA here
  2. Review the FAFSA deadlines here
  3. Learn how to prepare for filing the FAFSA here
  4. Get answers to frequently-asked questions about the FAFSA here

If you are already working on the FAFSA, don’t hesitate to reach out to your financial planner with questions. We can offer guidance and answers along the way, as well as help you strategize on how to weave the college student aid process into your larger financial plan.

Written By Zach Reuter