While many high school seniors are dreaming about what college or trade school will be like in the fall, their parents are thinking about the cost of tuition, books and meal plans. Fortunately, there are a number of options to fund higher education, including financial aid and scholarships. The first and most important step to determining how much need-based funding is available to your family is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA.
What is FAFSA?
FAFSA is the most widely used application for financial aid in the U.S. It connects students with over $150 billion in federal funds. Not only does FAFSA determine the amount of money your family is asked to contribute toward college education, which is called Expected Family Contribution (EFC), but it is also an instrumental tool in deciding how much financial aid a student can receive.
Financial aid is granted to students by trade schools and colleges through “award letters.” The “award letter” gives aid in numerous ways:
- Grants: These are predetermined amounts of “free money” that students do not have to pay back.
- Scholarships: Scholarships can be need-based or merit-based, and can come from a wide variety of sources, such as foundations, the state, private donors/organizations, and/or directly from a university. (For more information: www.fastweb.net)
- Federal student loans: A loan that must be repaid with low, fixed-rate interest. There are direct subsidized loans for students who demonstrate financial need to cover the cost of their tuition. There are also direct unsubsidized loans where students do not need to demonstrate financial need, and direct PLUS loans to help students and parents pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid.
- Federal work-study: A part-time job to help students pay for their education. Available to full-time or part-time students, work-study is administered by schools to help students with financial need earn money to cover their education expenses. These jobs are often on campus and encourage community service work or work related to a student’s field of study.
Financial aid monies can be used to cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books and other school supplies.
Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible
A number of higher education institutions use FAFSA as the first step in determining financial aid. As a result, it is beneficial to complete this form as soon as possible because some schools grant aid on a first-come, first-served basis.
To complete the FAFSA, financial information based on both the parents’ and student’s income must be provided. The Hawaii’s state priority deadline for the FAFSA is March 1, so you may have to use estimated numbers based on your parents’ tax return last year. After your parents file their taxes, you must log back into the FAFSA and correct any estimated information that was inaccurate.
If your family filed their taxes electronically in January, consider using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool available on the FAFSA website. It retrieves tax information online and will automatically update your FAFSA application for you.
Before submitting the FAFSA, you’ll need to fill out the federal school code for each college or university you are applying to. For example, if you are applying to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the code number is 001610. Note that this code is different for each of the seven University of Hawaii Community Colleges, call their admissions office or go to their website to find the code and check to see if they have their own financial aid deadlines.
It takes most students about 30 minutes to complete the application online. Basic personal information is required, such as:
- Student’s date of birth
- Student’s social security number or the student’s Alien Registration Number (if not a U.S. citizen)
- Parents’ financial information.
Ready to get started on completing the FAFSA? You can access the online application here: https://fafsa.ed.gov/.