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Home » Colleges, FAFSA, Financial Aid News

FAFSA Workshop – Part 5: Frequently Asked Questions

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Welcome to the final part of the Financial Aid Finder’s five-part FAFSA Workshop. If you want to catch up on parts 1-4, follow these links:

Essential FAFSA Documents
FSA ID
Common FAFSA Blunders
FAFSA Deadlines

Well, we have arrived at the final installment of our FAFSA workshop. For some of you, this may no longer be relevant, since you had March 1st (or earlier) deadlines by which to complete your FAFSA. If you are still working on your application, however, you might find some good tips in today’s FAQs. A special thank you to everyone who sent me their questions. I hope that our answers today are able to help you, but if you are still confused, leave me a comment below so I can follow up with you.



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*I am applying to three private schools and two state schools. How many FAFSAs do I need to complete?

Just one. You can list up to 10 schools on your application.

Keep in mind, however, that each of these schools may have a different deadline. Check with the school’s financial aid office to confirm each deadline, then make sure you finish your FAFSA in time to meet the earliest one. Also keep in mind that some private schools require additional documentation beyond the FAFSA, such as the CSS Profile form. The PROFILE is used by many private colleges and universities and typically takes a more complete family profile than the FAFSA. For more information on the CSS Profile, visit the College Board website.

*My dad just got laid off two months ago, but our tax returns don’t reflect that, obviously. How can I make a note of this on the FAFSA?

First, I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s layoff. I’m sure that is stressful for everyone. As to your question, unfortunately the FAFSA is not designed to accommodate special circumstances, whether or not they occurred in the previous tax year. In your situation, you should complete the FAFSA as required and then contact the school (or schools) directly. The financial aid office may ask you to present your situation in writing, with relevant documentation. At which point, the school may decide to take this additional information into consideration in determining your Estimated Family Contribution — which could mean that your financial aid award will be higher than expected, based only on the FAFSA.

*How long will it take for my school to get the information from my FAFSA once I submit it?

That’s a good question, especially since some schools make decisions about financial aid on a first come-first serve basis. If you fill out the FAFSA online, it will be processed by the Department of Education within 2-3 business days after you submit it. If you fill it out on paper and mail it in, your FAFSA could take up to three weeks to process. Once processed, the school(s) you selected should have the results within a week to ten days. If you complete the FAFSA manually, it could take an addition two to three weeks.

*Where do I find my school’s code?

Every school has a unique code, which you must fill out on your FAFSA, so that the Department of Education knows where to send the results. Use the FAFSA site’s Federal School Code Search to find your school’s code. You can include up to 10 schools on your application and the results will be sent to each school. Be sure you verify that the code is correct before submitting the FAFSA.

*My parents saved up a good amount of money for my college. It’s not quite enough to pay for everything, but I guess you could say we’re in a good position. I doubt I’d even qualify for federal aid. Is there any point in filling out the FAFSA?

Yes, absolutely. You may not qualify for student loans, grants or work-study — but without a completed FAFSA, you definitely won’t. Additionally, a number of private scholarship foundations require a copy of your FAFSA report, even if theirs is not a strictly need-based award. Don’t cut yourself out of the running for scholarship money — no matter how much money your parents have.

Bear in mind, as well, that the impact of your parents’ saving will be determined by the vehicle in which they saved that money. Meaning, if your parents saved your college money in a 529 Plan or an ESA Coverdell, for example, you could still be in good shape. A 529 plan owned by a parent is considered a parental asset and is assessed at a maximum rate of 5.64% when determining your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This rate is quite low. Assets that are held in your name, however, are assessed at a much high rate (up to 20%). So, long story short, definitely complete and submit the FAFSA because you may still be eligible for federal financial aid.

*My parents are divorced and have joint legal custody, but I live most of the time with my mom and step-dad. Whose information do I need to list on my FAFSA?

Joint legal custody does not matter as far as the FAFSA is concerned. Nor does whose turn it is to claim you on their tax return. For the FAFSA, you need the tax returns of the parent you lived with most during the last 12 months. Since your mom is remarried, you will need to include your stepfather’s info as well. If your mom and stepdad filed a joint return, then that should be easy. But even if they filed separately, you still need to include your stepfather’s information.

If your parents are separated but not yet divorced, then the situation would be a bit less clear. If your parents are legally separated, you should use the W2s of whichever parent you have lived with most over the past 12 months to determine his or her share of the reported income.

That’s it for me — but if you have other questions you can check out the FAFSA site’s very extensive FAQ section.

This is part of Financial Aid Finder’s five-part FAFSA Workshop. If you want to catch up on the other parts, follow these links:

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