Zareen Wajid, Talent Acquisition Specialist
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Every school year, my mother filed the FAFSA for me. Sometimes, she gave me a stack of papers in a manila envelope, and told me to give to my college’s financial aid office. I never looked inside that manila envelope. I just handed it to the Financial Aid Advisor, who would look at each paper with a hmm, and say “Thanks. You should hear back about your financial aid the first week of school”.

In my junior year, my mother got busy with my younger sister commencing college and all the attention went to her. All of the sudden, my mother went from “Look at all the aid you received from filing a FAFSA” to “Have you filed your FAFSA? … Have you filed your FAFSA? … When will you file your FAFSA?”

Clearly, I was in over my head. The only thing I knew is that I had to file something called FAFSA ASAP (and every year).

Mystery #1: What is FAFSA?

I went to www.fafsa.ed.gov and read a bunch of definitions and explanations that confused me. So, I called my mom and talked to my Financial Aid Advisor. I told them about the different terms I found on the FAFSA site, and they translated English into… well, English I could understand.

The cut-and-dry definition of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is that it is a free application that must be completed and filed annually by current and prospective undergraduate and graduate students to determine their eligibility to receive financial aid from the United States federal government. The types of financial aid that students typically receive include:

    1. Grants (aka free money since it doesn’t have to be repaid)
    2. Loans (aka money you borrow and typically pay back with interest)
    3. Work-study (aka paying for college through an on-campus or off-campus job)

The layman’s definition of FAFSA is that it is a form you fill out every year to qualify for ANY TYPE OF FINANCIAL AID. That’s right… ANY.

Mystery #2: Why file a FAFSA?

Financial Aid Advisors will tell you that college students should file a FAFSA. But why? I mean isn’t it their job to tell each student to file a FAFSA?

Apparently, FAFSA is much more than I initially thought. FAFSA asked information about income, assets, and dependency to determine my Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The calculated EFC is the amount the government believes my family, aka my mom and dad, can contribute toward my college education (whether they do so or not). Depending on the EFC, I could be eligible for need-based loans, grants, unsubsidized loans, etc.

More interestingly, I should file a FAFSA regardless of my potential EFC. This is because in order to qualify for and actually receive many loans, grants, scholarships, I must have submitted a FAFSA that year. Without filing a FAFSA, I could make myself ineligible to receive aid. Who’d a thought?!?!

Some more myths about filing a FAFSA:
– FAFSA does not determine aid based on ethnicity, race, religion, age, etc.
– My parent’s high income did not disqualify me for aid
– I did not need a certain high GPA to qualify for aid

Mystery #3: How to file a FAFSA?

Now that I had a better understanding of the FAFSA and why I should file it, I had to learn how to actually file it.

Surprisingly, that’s the easiest part.

    1. I retrieved my Personal Identification Number (PIN) from https://pin.ed.gov/ as I had forgotten it from last year. The same site can be used to create a new PIN.
    2. I went to https://fafsa.ed.gov/ to fill out and submit the FAFSA. Click here to see what documents I had to gather to fill the FAFSA. The site also provides easy-to-follow steps on filing the FAFSA.
    3. I continued to check my FAFSA status on the website. My mom told me they might ask for verification (additional proofs/completed forms).

After filing the FAFSA, I was shocked my mom hadn’t asked me earlier to do it. It was so simple. Also, I had many resources available, from my college’s Financial Aid Office to the FAFSA helpline (see below).

Contact Information for FAFSA
Phone: 1-800-433-3243 toll-free or 319-337-5665
E-mail: studentaid@ed.gov

Once my FAFSA was processed (typically takes a couple of weeks), my Student Aid Report (SAR) was sent to my college and myself. My college used the SAR to determine my financial aid package, and informed me about the type of financial aid and amount I would be receiving. I visited the college’s Financial Aid site to view and accept my aid.

Done.