According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), most people are eligible for financial aid to pay for college and career training, yet many college-bound students neglect to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they assume they are not eligible, either because of their family income, their grades or their age. This is a mistake.
Federal grants and student loans are based on need, but several factors, other than annual income, go into the calculation that determines need. Family size and number of family members in college are some of the factors the DOE considers when determining how much a family can contribute towards college expenses. The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is then deducted from the cost of attendance to determine need.
The EFC is calculated from information entered into the FAFSA. Not only does this figure determine eligibility for federal programs, such as PELL grants, states and colleges use these numbers to determine aid packages.
Financial aid is not just for high school students, returning adults are also eligible, and for federal programs, unlike many scholarship programs, students do not need outstanding grades. To continue receiving financial aid, students must show they are making progress towards a degree but the required grade point average is minimal.
Filing a FAFSA is free at the official FAFSA.gov website. There are commercial websites that charge a fee for filing, and they do offer other services, but the government online application is all that is necessary to apply for some of the $150 billion available in federal financial aid. The DOE provides an online calculator to help students determine how much aid they may receive.
The federal deadline for filing a FAFSA for the 2013-2014 school year isn’t until June 2014, but students should apply much sooner, as soon as they have their 2012 income information in order. It is not necessary to wait until tax returns are completed. At the very least, students should apply for a Personal Identification Number (PIN) in January so they may access their personal information online.