Thinking about going to college this year? Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — otherwise known as the FAFSA — could help you pay for school.
Tackling a FAFSA application can seem scary, but Goshen College financial aid experts Joel Short and Liliana Ballge said it's no big deal. Short and Ballge recently answered five questions about filling out the FAFSA.
1. Who should fill out the FAFSA?
Any student who would like to attend college in the 2014-15 school year, Short and Ballge said. This includes students planning to start in either fall or spring semester.
"Even if you are not considering college — because sometimes students say they will take a year off and work — file the FAFSA," Ballge advised. "Because so many times (students) think they are going to get a job, they don't, and then they miss the state deadline."
Speaking of deadlines ...
2. When should I fill out the FAFSA?
The short answer is "right now." Indiana students have until March 10 to fill out the FAFSA if they want to get state aid, Short and Ballge said.
It takes about half an hour to fill out the online application, which can be found at fafsa.ed.gov.
"People ask, can you save the application if you start it?" Ballge said. "And yes, you can save it. The first year will take a little bit longer but the following years it will take a little bit less than (the half hour) because some things will be pre-filled."
Students can fill out the online form themselves at fafsa.ed.gov, or they can attend one of two upcoming local events for help.
How can I get help with the FAFSA?
Two events are coming up to help Elkhart County students and their parents with the FAFSA.
Monday, Feb. 10: Goshen College representatives will talk about how to fill out the FAFSA at 7 p.m. at the Goshen High School auditorium. This meeting is open to all local students and their parents.
Sunday, Feb. 23: College Goal Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Goshen College Union building. Students can fill out the entire FAFSA online in this one afternoon session. This event is free and open to any student, even if the student is not considering attending Goshen College.
3. What information do I need?
Students will need to have include their 2013 tax information and their parents' tax information.
The good news is that the online application lets students transfer tax information from the IRS website straight into the FAFSA application.
"It asks, 'Have you completed your taxes?' and if you say yes and answer some questions ... it actually brings up the information that is requested for the FAFSA and you can directly transfer it into the FAFSA," Ballge said.
Students and parents will also need to provide information about income, assets, dependency status and citizenship.
Ballge noted that the student applying for aid must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but their parents do not have to be citizens.
4. Who is my parent?
"Sometimes students ask, who is my parent? Whose income do I have to report?" Ballge said. "We always say, whoever the child lives with most of the time, or whoever is the main provider for the child."
New this year, the FAFSA identifies parent sections by the labels "parent 1" and "parent 2" instead of "mother" and "father." The FAFSA requires both parents' information if a student's same-sex parents are legally married.
5. When will I find out how much aid I will receive?
Ballge said it could take between two and four weeks to receive a financial aid award letter or email from the student's preferred schools. Students can list up to 10 schools where they want their aid eligibility information to go.
"It doesn't hurt to follow up with your school after a couple of weeks, see where they are at or what your process is," Short added.
The financial aid a student receives is based on the family's financial situation the year before, Short said. If there's been a significant change since then — say, if one parent has lost a job — it's worth asking the school to reconsider their financial aid offer.
"They will ask for a lot of documentation on it, but it's definitely worth doing," Short said. "It never hurts to contact the school and see if there's anything they can do."