CSS

Tips for Filling Out the FAFSA

By Kendell Shaffer

When I set out to fill out my daughter’s FAFSA report last year, I gave myself the entire day. In reality, it takes about three to five hours, but I know if I have other things scheduled, I’ll never finish.

They design the FAFSA report for students to fill out, but since household financial information is usually handled by the parents, it’s best if the parents are hands on, or fill even out the forms for their students.
The FAFSA reports opens on October 1. I always like to apply for financial aid as early as possible. Getting the FAFSA report out of the way leaves your student and family more time to focus on applications. 

It’s very important when filling out the FAFSA report, that you use the correct report from www.fafsa.ed.gov. This report is free to submit. There are some misleading sites that charge the student to submit the FAFSA report, those are incorrect and please don’t get caught up in paying for a form that‘s intended to be free. 

Gather the documents you and your student will need prior to filling out the report. There is nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of a long form, having to get up and hunt for your files for a related document. These documents are needed:

  • Federal Student Aid ID
  • Student’s Social Security Number 
  • Student’s Driver’s License Number
  • Student’s Alien Registration Number, if not a US Citizen
  • Federal School Codes
  • Bank Statements (checking and savings for both students and parents)
  • Untaxed Income Records
  • Asset Records (including mortgage info and date of house purchase)
  • Federal Tax Returns (for both students and parents)

You might find that some private colleges will ask the student to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. The same documents are needed, so keep these documents nearby. Also, schools may need further information later on down the line, so it’s best to keep these docs handy. It’s no fun to dig back into your files with short notice for another item. 

The same documents are needed, so keep these documents nearby. Also, schools may need further information later on down the line, so it’s best to keep these docs handy. It’s no fun to dig back into your files with short notice for another item. 

And don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are folks standing by to answer questions. FAFSA has a great support line. Most college financial aid offices will help. Or talk to friends who are also filling out these forms, especially friends who have a student who applied to college a year ago. They are now experts and you will be too next year. I have also heard about FAFSA parties where several parents spend the day together filling out the FAFSA forms. That way if questions come up, others in the room can help. 

For me the form was easy to fill out but the reality of my daughter going to college was. The FAFSA report was the first step we took as a family to start the college application process which kicked off a very exciting time in our household.

Sunday Morning Coffee, the FAFSA Report and a Box of Kleenex

By Kendell Shaffer

Yesterday was the second Sunday morning I woke up early to fill out financial aid applications for college. A friend had emailed me the night before asking, “I filled in the FAFSA report and CSS report, besides making sure the girls turn in their applications on time, is that all we have to do?”

Technically, the financial aid applications are designed for the students to fill out. But they require so much detail of household finances, it definitely seems like a parent’s job.

The most important thing to know ahead of time is that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and CSS (College Scholarship Service Profile) require your tax return two years back. In other words, if the student enters college in the 2018-2019 school year, you will use your 2016 tax return. For my son, who will be entering college in the 2020-2021 year, we will use the 2018 tax return. This information is crucial. You may want to think ahead as you enter that tax year and consider that those spendings and earnings will be reviewed for financial aid.

So allow yourself some uninterrupted hours. The FAFSA report goes quickly, but the CSS takes more time. Then the day after you submit the CSS, some colleges ask for several documents to be uploaded, many of these requiring your child’s signature. Be prepared to pay a $9 processing fee and $16 per school for CSS. The FAFSA report is free.

As I confirmed the list of colleges we were sending the report to, ten for us, I started to tear up. All the college prep so far has been super fun. College tours with the family, looking through colorful brochures, imagining how my California daughter might endure a winter in Maine. But sending off our taxes so that we might get money to actually send our daughter to one of these places was too much for me. I looked at her hand-picked college list and pictured her 3,000 miles away. She only had one close-to-home college on her list, and that was a safety school. I listened to her read her college essay out loud as her brother played basketball nearby. I imagined the house without her. I couldn’t.

So it wasn’t the act of digging up our finances that was hard, it was hitting the submit button and realizing the actual road to her moving on was in play. Technically my friend was right, my only responsibilities are filling out the forms and helping her meet the application deadlines. But it’s not the only thing I need to do. Emotionally prepping for her to leave home… that will be the hardest job of all.

 

 

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