Originally Posted: Jan 26, 2015
Last Updated: Sep 11, 2018
It’s no surprise that higher education costs a lot of money these days. So whether you’re already enrolled in school for next year or just thinking about applying, you’re probably also thinking, “How am I going to pay for all this?”
The best place to start is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA. It’s a government form used to determine how much your family is expected to pay toward your education and must be completed each year. More importantly for most students, it determines your eligibility for federal, state, and school-sponsored aid, including grants, loans, and work-study programs. Even if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, eligibility for many federal student loans requires a completed FAFSA.
The FAFSA for the upcoming school year is available October 1 (earlier than in years past, when it wasn't available until January 1). This is a case where the earliest birds get the juiciest worms. For many school-based grant and other assistance programs, aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. So the sooner you complete your form, the better your chances of getting financial help.
Another factor that may affect your chances of receiving aid is your dependency status. If you’re considered a dependent, then the FAFSA requires not only your financial information as the applying student but your parents’ financial information as well. And most times your parents will have more money and more non-liquid assets (like property) than you do, especially if you’re an 18-year-old incoming freshman, which can make the form longer and more complicated. FAFSA rules for dependency are not determined by your tax status; instead there are very specific dependency criteria that must be met.
One of the independent status criteria for FAFSA is enrollment in a graduate or professional program, which means you only need to include your (and your spouse’s, if you have one) financial information. So if you’re thinking about grad school but dreading FAFSA because you remember it taking hours to complete in undergrad, you’re in luck! The form is much less painful to complete when you have less information to put into it.
Whether you’re continuing a program next year or even just thinking about enrolling in the fall, head to the FAFSA website as soon as possible to start filling out your form!