If you are the parent of a high school senior, your child is probably knee-deep in college applications and you may be starting to sweat a little. The next few months might get bumpy but don’t fear, FAFSA is here!

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is an online form used by the federal government, states, and colleges to award scholarships, grants, work study, and student loans. By filling out the FAFSA, parents learn what their expected family contribution (EFC) will be and what types of financial aid their child qualifies for. Additionally, families who need assistance with their expected contribution can file for a Parent Plus Loan using the FAFSA.

There has been a significant change to the FAFSA deadline for the 2017/2018 school year. Unlike previous years when students and their parents had to wait until January 1st to apply, the application is now available online as of October 1st.  This may seem rather early.  However, in order to get the most aid, students are encouraged to log onto the website well before the end of 2016.

Applying is simple:

1. Parents, log onto www.fafsa.ed.gov with your student. Be sure to have their social security number handy. Remember, the FAFSA is their application, not yours!

2. Create an account by selecting, “Start a New FAFSA.” This is where both the student’s and the parent’s information is entered. Parents, you will need to enter your income information on this application. Be mindful that if your child completes his/her own application, they will need to obtain this information from you.

3. Follow each prompt. It’s not hard – just a bit long! Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to speed up the income tax section of the application.

4. Once submitted, you will receive a recap of your entries called the SAR (Student Aid Report). Review it for accuracy and immediately correct any mistakes as this is what the schools will use to calculate your student’s financial aid award package.

5. The student’s SAR will be sent to each school you request. Once received, the school will use this information to calculate:

  • How much the student can receive in free federal and/or state grants.
  • How much the school can extend in the form of a scholarship. These will vary by school and are usually based on academic merit. (Hint: private schools often offer more scholarship money than public schools! Don’t rule out applying to private schools.)
  • The type and amount of student loans the student will qualify for.

Remember, your “award” doesn’t have to be the final outcome. If you think your child should qualify for more aid, you can appeal. Call the respective school’s financial aid office and have them walk you through their appeals process.  If you find that your EFC is still too high and there is a shortage, you may apply for a parent loan.  Parent Plus Loan applications are available at the school’s financial aid office, usually through their website.  Both the school and the federal government will use the information from the FAFSA, along with your credit history, to determine your loan eligibility.  To get an idea of what your EFC might be, check out the EFC calculator at: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/estimate