Sunday, February 8, 2015

F Stands for Free: Answering Difficult Student Questions About the FAFSA

Sunday, February 8, 2015


January 1st is not only the beginning of the new year, but the beginning of FAFSA season.  By now, your students and their parents should be emailing and calling you asking questions about this mysterious document that they have heard about, but don't quite understand.  In fact, I have to refresh my memory about this document so that I can answer my families' questions.  Fortunately, our county hosts a College Goal Sunday Event each year for our families.  If you are not familiar with College Goal Sunday, allow me to fill you in on this event. 

The Sunday following the Super Bowl, our system invites college admission representatives, financial aid directors, tax preparers and Georgia Student Finance Commission representatives to assist our families in completing their FAFSA.  The event lasts for four hours and high school counselors are on hand to help with childcare, refreshments, answering parent questions, and directing families to the right resources.  Tomorrow I will be volunteering at our annual event and I thought I would take this opportunity to share some information about the FAFSA with you.  Also, you can join Amber Thompson and me on the next #HSCCHAT Twitter on Monday, Feb. 9th (8:30 EST) to learn more about FAFSA!

As a high school counselor, it is pretty important that you are able to articulate information to students and parents about this important document.  Therefore, I want to share some of these questions with you so you can be prepared in advance and get your cool points with your administrators!   

Give me a high five!!

1. What is the FAFSA? 

If you are a high school counselor, please practice this line...

"The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is required to apply for  Federal grant, work-study and loan programs, which provide approximately $150 billion in college financial assistance every year. Most states and many schools require the FAFSA to award their grants, merit scholarships, and other types of assistance."



It is so important that you are able to communicate the meaning and the importance of FAFSA to your parents and students.  I have included a short video you can share on your website or emails with your parents.

Or, you can always share this cheesy video...

Other resources for students and parents:

College Week Live: Understanding Financial Aid and the FAFSA

NACAC: Counseling Students About Student Financial Aid

2. Can one submit FAFSA before filing taxes?

Although colleges and universities urge students to file the FAFSA after it goes on online on January 1st, that is not always a reality.  My daughter will be a senior next year and intuitively I know that I will not have all my tax documents, itemized receipts, and statements in order until at least mid-February.  The problem with waiting to submit your FAFSA until taxes are completed is that many colleges have early deadlines.  Sue Allmon posted a great article in the "College Goal Sunday Blog" about this question.

Tax Completion Question
Since I have been a high school counselor, I have always advised parents that they need to get their taxes completed early to submit the FAFSA for their student; however, this is a misnomer.  Allmon states in the blog that it is perfectly okay to submit the FAFSA before parents file their taxes.  Parents can estimate their income information on the FAFSA form and indicate that they will be filing their taxes. Important note: parents must go back to the FAFSA form and update the filing status!

3. Is there an income cut off?

The short answer to this question is NO...there is not an income cutoff!! Financial aid is determined by many factors like: income, number of family members, age of parents, and others?

Check this informative handout for more myths about FAFSA.

FAFSA Myths

4. How can a student determine his or her FAFSA parent?

I get asked this question a lot by students.  Normally, I look at the student like I am caught in headlights, BUT no more!  I now have a handy guide called, Whose My FAFSA Parent? from College Up.  If a student is not sure who qualifies, he or she can take this informational quiz to
identify the correct parent.



5. What is a FAFSA PIN?

The PIN is a personal identification number that allows a student and his or her parent to submit the FAFSA online. Without a PIN, a student and the parent cannot submit an electronic FAFSA and must download, sign, and mail a paper copy. 


Apply for a PIN

Important Tip: Students and parents need to write down their PIN and file it in a secure location!

A new change that is coming this spring is that the FAFSA PIN will become obsolete and will be replaced by "FSA ID". The "FSA ID" will allow students and parents to access the different governmental loan websites by using one form of identification!

6. How can errors be corrected on the FAFSA?

As soon as the parent or student realizes an error has been made, they should go to the FAFSA site and correct the error as soon as possible.

Quick Guide to Completing FAFSA Errors

7. Who is considered an independent student?

This is another question I am asked a lot by students who may not be living with their parents.  So, here is the criteria for you to share with your students.

Under the federal definition, an independent student is someone who fits the following criteria:

  • Since the age of 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?

  • There is a section on the FAFSA where students can report if they are in foster care and a web link to additional benefits.  This is information is important to get out to our students.

    National Center for Homeless Youth
    Webinar About Homeless Youth and College
    McKinney Vento and College
    McKinney Vento and School Support
    Children of Incarcerated Parents

  • Are you, or were you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?

  • Are you, or were you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?

  • At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

  • At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

  • At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?


  • Great Video about Independent Students


    Dependent v. Independent

    Providing Effective Financial Aid Guidance to Homeless Youth



    Youth Poster on Homelessness

    8. Can students with undocumented parents submit a FAFSA?

    According to the "College Goal Sunday Blog", students of undocumented parents can file a FAFSA.  Here are some tips for entering parent information:
    Parents With No Social Security Number
    • When entering parent information for social security number, the parent should enter nine zeros. The parent should enter the zeros even if he or she has a federal taxpayer ID.
    • If the parent does not file a US tax return, he or she must provide income and other financial information.
    • Undocumented parents cannot apply for a PIN.  The student will complete his or her electronic signature with his or her PIN, but the parent must print, sign, and mail his or her signature page.
    • It is highly suggested to send the signature page via express mail instead of US Mail so that it can be processed in a timely manner.

    Increasing College Access and Success for Immigrants

    9. What if...

    I am a foster kid or ward of the state?  Student Aid Tips for Unique Student Populations

    I am an undocumented student? Student Aid Tips for Undocumented Students

    I have been in jail?  Aid for Incarcerated Students

    Victim of a war, terrorism, or a natural disaster?  Financial Aid For Those Affected by War, Terrorism, Natural Disasters

    10. What happens after a student submits his or her FAFSA?

    Students should look for their SAR report which gives information about their eligibility for financial aid.  Here is a quick video you can share.


    Students should also check with their college financial aid office to see if there is any documents that are missing or need to be completed.

    Things To Do After Filing FAFSA
    Calculated Family Income

    11.  Where can I get more help?

    Get FAFSA help for parents and students by referring them to a College Goal Sunday Event in your state.












    Also, you can get more information by viewing this FAFSA Webinar by Big Future.


    Additional Resources for Families: 

    Submitting the FAFSA--A Quick Guide for Students and Parents


    FAFSA Worksheet

    New FAFSA Updates

    7 Common FAFSA Mistakes

    State Deadlines for Financial Aid

    Federal Aid Counseling Handbook

    College Up

    College Goal Sunday USA

    FAFSA Blog

    Financial Aid Toolkit Resources

    Resources Specific for High School Counselors

    Hosting a Financial Aid Event

    Outreach on Social Media

    Student Aid Public Service Announcements

    Other Resources:

    Mapping Your Future

    Know How 2 Go

    My Future, My Way - resources for middle school students.