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FAFSA: What You Need to Know to Get Help Paying for College

October 1 is almost here, and if you have a child going to college for the first time, or you already have one in college, you might want to circle that date on your calendars.

The 2023-24 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens up that day and, for many parents and students, filling out that application will be the key to helping them pay for their children’s college education.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average cost of tuition and fees at private universities for the 2022-23 school year is $39,723. The average amount out-of-state students will pay to attend public universities is $22,953. In-state residents attending public universities will pay $10,423, on average. Those figures, however, don’t necessarily include day-to-day living expenses, books and supplies.

Although those numbers are not insignificant, the good news is that there are several resources available to help defray the cost of attending institutions of higher learning. As millions of students begin the process of applying to college, families should begin to plan how they will pay for it.

As part of the U.S. Department of Education, the office of Federal Student Aid provides some

13 million students with over $150 billion in federal aid. This financial aid for college can be in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs and government loans. All these different types of aid can significantly ease the financial burden of pursuing higher education and help offset tuition costs and other expenses to come with a college education. The questions on the FAFSA application are meant to determine financial need and what families can expect to pay out-of-pocket towards college costs. There is no income limit to qualify for FAFSA, and almost anyone can qualify for some type of aid.

Leebie Mallin, director of college guidance for Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, advises families and students to file the FAFSA during their senior year even if they plan on taking a gap year in Israel before starting college. “Aid offers from different colleges may be a key factor in deciding where a student will attend. The financial aid offers made during senior year will also give families a sense of what kind of aid they will receive the following year since family financial situations typically do not change drastically from one year to the next.”

A FAFSA grant is ideal because it is money that doesn’t have to be repaid (unless you withdraw from school or don’t fulfill certain obligations that come with certain grants). There are several types of grants, and it’s a good idea to research which ones apply to you and what you need to do to obtain them.

Scholarships, otherwise known as free money, are typically awarded based on any number of different factors. Because there are so many different types of scholarships available, it’s advisable to call the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend, do some research online and check with your local library. Beware of any source that asks for money to help you find available scholarships and other types of financial aid. All the legitimate information you could possibly need is free and public; if someone is asking for money for a service that does this, chances are it’s a scam.

Work-study programs are exactly what they sound like—part-time jobs specifically for undergraduate and graduate students that help supplement tuition costs. Work-study programs can often be related to a student’s course of study but they can also involve employment in civic education, as well. A work-study award will depend on several different factors including level of need and the school’s funding. But students can expect to be paid the current federal minimum wage. Other guidelines, rules and restrictions can apply and will be explained when an aid offer comes in.

There are many types of federal loans including direct subsidized loans, which are available to families who demonstrate financial need, and direct unsubsidized loans, which are available to students and families regardless of need. Direct PLUS loans are also available to parents, graduate students and professional students regardless of need, but borrowers must demonstrate an acceptable credit history.

Unlike grants and scholarships, loans must be repaid, and the type of loan a student receives will determine repayment terms. Federal student loans are recommended the most since they have lower interest rates than private lenders.

The very first task on your to-do list should be to visit the FAFSA site, if only just to familiarize yourself with it, make a list of documents and information you’ll need to fill out the forms and note which deadlines apply to you.

Next, you will need to set up login information. If your child is a dependent, then both the child and one of the parents whose information will be reported on the FAFSA will need to set up separate IDs. Be sure to write down login and password information and keep it in a safe place.

Although the federal deadline to apply for aid for the 2023-24 school year is June 30, 2023, state and college deadlines vary and are often much earlier. Students and families who do wait until June to apply often lose out on grants and are only able to receive aid in the form of loans. A full list of those state deadlines is listed at www.studentaid.gov

Mallin explained: “Every college has a deadline by which families must file the FAFSA to be eligible for financial aid. It is important to adhere to these deadlines since every college has a set pool of money to allocate to those who are qualified and once the funds have been allocated, they are no longer available.”

All the information you will need to complete and submit the FAFSA application can be found at https://studentaid.gov/ The site also has video tutorials and step-by-step instructions for filling out the form.

Below is a handy checklist of the items needed to complete the application if the student is a dependent. In many cases the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) can be used to download much of that directly onto the FAFSA. Place all the documents and information in a folder and write the login information on the inside. Once you have all your documents at hand, completing the FAFSA should take about 30 minutes:

Student’s Social Security number

Parents’ Social Security numbers

Student’s driver’s license, if he or she has one

Student’s Alien Registration number if he or she is not a U.S. citizen

Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns, IRS W-2 information for both student and parents, IRS 1040, Foreign tax return or IRS Form 1040-NR, tax return for Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia or Palau

Records of untaxed income such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits for both parents and student (if student is a dependant)

Bank statements for both parents and student

Parents’ current investment and business records

The FAFSA site has all kinds of other incredibly useful tools including a link to help students not only learn about budgeting, but also help them create a real budget that they can use, not only while they are in school, but even after they graduate.

Students can expect to receive their financial aid offers around the same time that college acceptances come out and can include a combination of grants, work-study and loans. If the amount of aid received is not enough, there is an appeals process where the aid amount can be negotiated. If an aid recipient receives a better offer from a school that was not their first choice, the student can request that their first choice school match the offer. If there is a change in financial circumstances, the applicant can request that their school reexamine the aid offer to account for the new changes.

For more information visit: https://studentaid.gov/

By Ronit Mershon


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