FAFSA and Financial Aid Basics
by Mike Deutsch and Meggan Mattson
College Fit Counseling, LLC

Congratulations!!  Your student has decided where he or she wants to go to college, and everyone is excited for the new journey to begin.  But before you finalize your decision and commit to the school, there is one more thing to consider… How are we going to pay for this?!   The place where most families begin this process is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

It is recommended that, regardless of your family’s financial situation, you should always fill out the form to help determine the level of financial assistance for which you may be eligible.  The Department of Education uses the FAFSA to distribute funds to qualified students.  Likewise, states, colleges, and private companies employ the information from the FAFSA as a tool to determine eligibility for their aid packages.

While it may seem like a daunting task, filling out the FAFSA actually is a streamlined process.  A variety of resources is available to assist families as they navigate the form and understand what is required from both parents and students.  The FAFSA website itself, and the Federal Student Aid page, are two such sites that will inform and guide you through the procedure.

Here are some hints that we hope are useful as you begin the process:

•    Financial assistance for the 2015 – 2016 school year requires that you complete The FAFSA as soon as you can after January 1, 2015.  Each college and university has its own priority deadline for submission, and the sooner you submit your information, the sooner you will hear from the school(s) about the aid that can be made available to you.

•    Since FAFSA asks for financial information from 2014, it is sometimes difficult to gather and complete your tax return before the priority deadline set by your school. If you want to submit your FAFSA to meet your school’s deadline, you can use tax information from the previous year (2013), then return at a later date to update figures or change any discrepancies. Check with your college to confirm its specific deadline.

•    Familiarize yourself with the many different types of aid available.  Grants like Federal Pell Grants and Military Service Grants are but two types of grant aid available to those who qualify.  Loan programs like The Perkins and The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program are two popular loan programs utilized by students and their parents.

•    Avoid the assumption that you will not be eligible for aid!  Many people think that one factor or another (high income or poor grades) will prevent them from receiving financial assistance. Since a variety of factors determine eligibility, we recommend that you complete the form and let your school tell you where you stand.

•    The FAFSA must be completed EVERY YEAR that the student is attending college.   Because personal and financial situations may change over time, the FAFSA is required for each academic school year.

Best wishes for you and your student as you begin this important piece of the college admission process.
Meggan Mattson and Mike Deutsch, both former high school counselors, created College Fit Counseling, LLC to help students and families navigate the college search and selection process.  They assist with all pieces of the process: from creating a college list of “good fit” schools, through college applications and essays, and into applying for financial aid and scholarships.  Visit our website at www.collegefitcounseling.com for more information on services offered.  Or, contact us at meggan@collegefitcounseling.com or 773-807-4079 with further questions and to see how we can help you.