FAFSA – Not Fast and Free Student Aid

Have you ever considered the amount of work that you put in as a parent trying to get financial aid for your child in the first semester of college? Now, before you simply just dismiss this entire notion by saying to yourself, ‘our family makes too much for little Sally or Johnny to qualify for student aid’, you’ll soon find out that if you even need to get a loan that is tied to the student in any way short of you just writing a check, you will be introduced to FAFSA. This acronym stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. So here are some highlights of my first 3 of 4 children to enter higher education and the process roadblocks we’ve encountered and tips on how to navigate this maze of red tape at both private and public institutions.

Some high school counselors will try to make you believe that it stands for Fast and Free Student Aid, but you’ll soon become frustrated if you were told by the high school that its just a simple form and all you’ll need is the parents and childs most recent signed form 1040 tax return, and it’s all on computer! How easy can it be? My first child to go through this process graduated from a small high school in Central Arkansas with plans to attend a local community college, and I have to admit, he spoiled us with his diligence and I would later learn, a WHOLE LOT of LUCK!!!!! I don’t think I ever did anything except give him some information over the phone in addition to our simplified tax return, meaning that I only sent in the first two pages, which is a summary without the schedules A,C, SE, etc……. That’s where the luck came into play.

The process with scholarships and other forms of public student aid usually start with FAFSA being filled out on an evening at the local high school where the counselor assists the parents/students by providing computers for the parents/students to use to get online and enter the information on the form. This requires setting up a pin, (one each for the parents and student), and entering the codes for the individual institutions the student wishes to apply. For most parents, this is where their personal involvement ends, up to a point. For example, if your local high school doesn’t have a thorough check sheet for all the required forms and tax returns, etc., then you might find as we did that what lies ahead is a nightmare. Have you ever been to the local government office and stand in line for 30 minutes only to find out that you were in the wrong line? Well, that’s exactly what happens when you don’t submit all the information AT THE SAME TIME. With the exception, that the people at FAFSA prefer to notify you of lacking information via mail, which means by the time your child has taken their first, or in some cases second round of tests in the fall semester, they still will not have been approved to move forward in the process.

Right now I feel compelled to let the readers know that just because your application has been accepted it doesn’t guarantee anything at all, except they will now review your application. In 2 of 3 cases that I’ve dealt with this process for the first time, we only were told that we would be notified by mail, or email. For middle income parents this will probably mean that your child will qualify for Federal Guaranteed Student Loans and there are limits depending on the institution and what academic year they are in.

I am writing this topic to alert parents and students alike to be on their toes as their child enters their Senior year of high school, and to be proactive with the institution that the child would like to apply. I have found the local high school experience to be lacking in assisting with higher education requirements in regards to Federal guidelines. So I have compiled a check list that I’ll use on my 4th and final teenager as she approaches high school graduation.

All tax returns from current year, meaning that if it is May 2012, send the returns you filed April 15, 2012 (if you do FAFSA earlier in winter, then you’ll have to resubmit forms after April 15 for the upcoming fall semester / academic year) Include all attachments such as w-2’s, 1099 misc, and schedules showing income and business income, ( in one case I had to have an affidavit stating the amount of child support we received) Compile a comprehensive folder/file that includes all possible personal information of your student including but not limited to shot records, drivers license, insurance certificates, grade transcripts

These things seem common sense when reading it, but you’d be surprised how many parents let a dime hold up a dollar.

The best advise I can give is this one thing, build a relationship with someone on campus. When traveling to meet the university or college of your students’ choosing, make it a priority to find a contact person you can call each and every time you have a question or need help. This was the best thing I did when dealing with the ‘out of town’ university, it saved about 4 weeks in the admissions process alone.

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