Tag Archives: FAFSA

College financial aid: What is the FAFSA?

Getting accepted at a college or university can be confusing enough but applying for financial aid can be overwhelming,  particularly at one’s first glance at the FAFSA.

Just, exactly, what is the FAFSA and what purpose does it serve? Do you really need to fill it out? (Hint: the answer is yes.)

FAFSAThe Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form families must submit to all of the colleges and universities on their list before being applying for financial aid.  

Based on the information on your FAFSA, an Expected Family Calculation (EFC), will be computed and based on that your eligibility for federal aid, most state aid programs, institutional aid and aid from private sources or organizations.

Families will be asked to complete the FAFSA with the following information:

  • Taxed and untaxed income
  • Specific assets (social security income and home equity are not considered assets)
  • Family size
  • Parental ages
  • Number of children in the family and the number in college

Families can file the FAFSA online.  It takes approximately three to four weeks for your FAFSA to be processed. You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) after that time indicating what your family is expected to contribute to your college expenses.

The New College GuideThe New College Guide How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job recommends:

  • Find out before you file a FAFSA if you can afford all of the schools on your list by meeting with financial aid counselors before you file any application.
  • You can also estimate your EFC by using a financial aid calculator. Check out the Department of Education’s website.   Another useful website is BigFuture .
  • Don’t try to game the system. It never works.  Financial aid counselors have heard it all before.
  • File the FAFSA as early as possible, even before you file your income taxes. You can go  back and amend your FAFSA after your taxes are filed. You can also have your tax returns automatically and electronically transferred into your FAFSA. 
  • If you really believe the EFC does not accurately reflect your family’s contribution, you should appeal your case to the financial aid director.

Mr. Cohen cuts class, misses notes; not college costs

In an opinion piece published in the March 21 edition of the New York Times, attorney Steve Cohen suggests a quick way to cut college costs would be for Congress to reduce by 75 percent the “estimated family contribution,” or EFC, for middle class families with children headed to college or university.

I believe Mr. Cohen is mistaken and submitted to the Times a letter in rebuttal:

I must respectfully disagree with a basic premise in Mr. Cohen’s Op-Ed article in today’s New York Times.

It is folly for a family to spend time and money filing many college applications and only begin a conversation as to whether they can afford the school after an acceptance letter arrives in the mailbox.

To cut college costs, a more pro-active approach to college admission and financing is necessary. Families should have in-person ( or electronic) conversations with financial aid staff to get an estimate of Expected Family Contribution. At the same time they should also get an estimate of what the family can expect in federal, state and school funding. There are many colleges and universities meeting with parents and students in the evening or on the week-end to provide early estimates of financial costs and expected funds.

Some schools may be eliminated after this information is calculated. Other schools may stay on the college list as a result of the information.

Given the political climate in Washington, does anyone really believe, as Mr. Cohen suggests, that Congress and the President will act quickly to reduce the EFC by 75%?

The best way for families to control college costs is to take control, by getting good information early in the application cycle, of their ability to afford, or not afford, each of the schools on their college list.