Late in 2015, President Obama made significant changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. The new changes will more accurately align the financial aid application process with college application deadlines. While families must current wait until January to begin the financial aid process, in the 2017-18 school year, students will be able to file their FAFSA as early as October 1, 2016.
FAFSA is the application that college or career school students must complete to apply for federal student aid, including Pell Grants, federal student loans, and work-study opportunities. In addition to determining eligibility for federal student aid, FAFSA information is used by states, local colleges, and private organizations to determine eligibility for nonfederal student aid. The FAFSA is strictly a financial based application; grades are not a factor in determining loans or grants.
For the 2016-17 year, the FAFSA application opened January 1st. With aid being handed out on a first come, first served basis, families must submit their application as soon as possible. The key to a relatively painless FAFSA application is to apply early and fill out required information accurately.
Applying for the FAFSA
Be sure you are applying at the only official FAFSA site: Fafsa.ed.gov. A Google search will bring up other sites, however, these are not run by the U.S. Department of Education and many charge a fee to apply.
The FAFSA is always free to fill out.
It is possible to complete a paper version of the FAFSA, however, this will significantly slow down the processing time, potentially lowering your awarded aid amount. Another added benefit to filling out the FAFSA online is the website offers a link to the family’s IRS tax data from the previous year, making the online application quicker and more accurate.
The Documentation You Need
Before filling out the FAFSA, you will need:
- Social security numbers of parents and the student
- Student’s drivers license number
- 2015 tax information for student and parents * **
- Accurate amounts of untaxed income (child support, VA benefits, etc.)
- Checking and savings account balances for student and parents
- FSA ID of both student and parent (you’ll create this idea the first time you log on to fafsa.gov)
NOTE: Don’t wait to fill out the FAFSA until after you’ve filed your 2015 taxes. You can use estimated tax info from pay stubs or W2’s and always update your figures later after you’ve filed.
** Another change to the 2017-18 FAFSA is families will be able to report taxes from a previous year. For the 2017-18 school year, aid will be determined off the parent’s 2015 taxes.
FAFSA deadlines vary by state and school. The deadline for University of Memphis is March 1, while The University of Tennessee sets a February 15 priority deadline. If you are applying to multiple schools, submit the FAFSA by the earliest deadline for the schools you are considering.
Individual states also have their own deadline. Arkansas sets a June 1 deadline but Mississippi and Tennessee don’t require a submitted FAFSA until September. The federal deadline for federal student aid is June 30.
However, more aid is given out to those who apply sooner so it is always best to submit the FAFSA early.
Be realistic about the true cost of college. The FAFSA4caster, also available at fafsa.ed.gov, will give you a fairly accurate idea of how much your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will be towards college costs after any aid has been awarded. This is not the same thing as actually applying for the FAFSA, it is simply a tool to plan ahead for college.
The FAFSA4caster is only an estimate for college costs. Aside from room, board and tuition, you’ll need to factor in living expenses, gas, transportation, extra curricular fees, etc. The college cafeteria meal plan won’t cover every meal and will get old pretty quickly. Pizza orders and fast food runs add up quickly.
Tennessee Promise Scholarship Follows FAFSA Deadlines
Tennessee Promise is a state-sponsored, last dollar scholarship intended to cover college costs not met by the PELL Grant, Hope Scholarship, or other state assistance funds. It will not cover the cost of books, transportation, room & board, or extra expenses and can only be used for a technical certificate from one of Tennessee’s 27 colleges of applied technology or any community college or four-year university with a two-year associates degree.
College seniors should have already applied and attended at least one of the two mandatory school meetings with their high school counselor.
Tennessee Promise requires that the FAFSA be filled out by February 15, 2016.
An additional requirement of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship is eight hours of community service per student, which must be completed before the school semester begins. For the fall 2016 semester, all community service must be completed and turned in by August 1, 2016.
There are a wide variety of community service opportunities available, but the organization’s volunteer coordinator must supervise the service hours. Some job shadowing and unpaid internships are also eligible to count toward service hours.
To submit service hours, or for other Tennessee Promise community service information, visit tnachieves.org.