When to File the FAFSA to Get More Financial Aid for College

Whether it’s due to a tightening of the belt or the promise of federal student loan forgiveness, families are suddenly paying more attention to college financial aid.

More than half of parents of college students, or 58%, hadn’t planned to apply for federal aid but have now changed their minds, according to a new report from Discover Student Loans.

“Given the current economic uncertainties regarding inflation and fears of a recession, it’s understandable that some families are feeling the impact of paying for college and reconsidering applying for federal aid,” said Rich Finn, vice president. -president of Discover Student Loans.

That’s where the Free Federal Student Aid app comes in.

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With rising tuition, most families rely on a combination of resources to make college affordable. Income and savings cover more than half of college fees, free money from scholarships and grants accounts for about a quarter of costs, and student loans make up most of the rest, according to the annual “How America Pays for College” report. by Sallie Mae.

“You want to maximize that free money first,” Sallie Mae spokesman Rick Castellano said, like scholarships and grants, “before you borrow.”

But students must complete the FAFSA to access any help. For the 2023-2024 school year, FAFSA filing season opens October 1 — and the sooner students file, the better.

The sooner families fill out the FAFSA, the better their chances of receiving aid, Castellano said, because some financial aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis, or programs with limited funds.

Scholarships are key to college affordability

Miljan Živković | Istock | Getty Images

“The FAFSA is the single most important thing you can do to qualify for scholarships and grants,” Castellano said. “At the end of the day, it’s free money that you don’t need to pay back and that should help make college affordable.”

Scholarships are a key source of funding, but only 60% of families use them, according to the education lender.

About 6 in 10 people who used scholarships got them directly from their student’s school. These students received $6,335 on average.

The majority of families who did not use the scholarships said it was because they had never applied.

Why More Families Are Not Completing the FAFSA

Last year, 70% of families completed the FAFSA, up slightly from 68% the year before, which was a record high, according to Sallie Mae. This year, up to 72% can apply, Discover estimated.

“My hope, always, is that more families complete the FAFSA,” Castellano said.

Of those who do not apply, the most common reason is that they thought their income was too high to qualify for aid, followed by the application being too complicated or they simply didn’t know. not, Sallie Mae found.

In fact, “nearly every family will be eligible for some form of college aid,” Castellano said.

Many factors, not just income, come into play in determining the amount of aid students receive, including the total number of people in the household and the number of children in college, as well as other financial commitments such as a home equity loan or child support payments.

The application process itself is another hurdle, families say.

However, experts say you can complete the FAFSA form online at fafsa.gov or on the myStudentAid app in less than an hour, especially if you have your documents handy, including W-2s and last year’s tax return. Sallie Mae also has a free online FAFSA tool to help families navigate the process.

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