How Counselors Can Help Students Complete Their FAFSA

It’s difficult for any counselor to see a smart, driven student who is unable to pay for college. With costs rising not only for tuition but also for room and board, a degree can easily slip out of reach for deserving students. Fortunately, there are lots of student aid options out there that can provide help, including the U.S. government.

Students who need help paying for college should start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is essential for letting students see all their options for federal aid. As a counselor, you can help students complete their FAFSA so they can work toward their dream of going to college.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA has been available since 1992 and it allows students to easily apply for aid from the government. Unlike private scholarships, which each have their own academic and personal requirements, plus a unique application process, the FAFSA is a universal form designed to evaluate every student’s need for financial aid.

Since 1997, the form has been available online. It is an interactive process, so students will be guided through different questions based on their answers. Students may need to answer up to 180 questions to complete the application.

Types of Government Funding

Private scholarships are typically awarded based on merit, while government funding is need-based. Students who need more money to pay for college will get higher awards. There are different types of funding available, depending on the student’s situation.

Grants are provided with no expectation of repayment unless the student drops out of school before a certain point in the semester when aid was given. They are essentially need-based scholarships provided by the government.

Loans, which will need to be repaid, are another type of aid. Some loans are subsidized and the government will pay the interest on those loans until six months after graduation. These are usually given to students needing more assistance. Any student can get an unsubsidized loan but they will be responsible for paying the interest right away.

Work-study programs are a form of government financial aid that offer students paying jobs on campus. These can provide work experience in addition to funding the student’s education. Many students successfully juggle school and work, even with off-campus jobs, so work-study can be a great choice if it’s offered.

Eligible Students

Any student in the United States can fill out a FAFSA and counselors should encourage them to do so. Even if the funding options don’t end up being the right choice, it’s still good for students to understand all their options.

Most students will have to fill in their family’s financial information so that the government can calculate their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) based on income and assets. However, independent students will not need this as they are not expected to get financial help from their families.

Students over the age of 24, those who are married or separated, students with children, graduate students, current and former members of the military or national guard, and students who are orphaned, were in the foster care system, were emancipated, homeless, or under a legal guardianship are considered independent for the FAFSA. The form for these students is shorter and easier to complete.

What Students Need to Complete the FAFSA

Students should collect their FAFSA information in advance. When advising your students about the process, make sure they get information such as their parents’ financial records and social security numbers together before beginning the application process. There is a list of the FAFSA questions available to help students compile the information they will need.

Paying for school is stressful. As a counselor, you can make a big difference by directing your students toward aid resources, such as the FAFSA. Getting familiar with the form will help you provide support and assistance as needed so students can attend school and fulfill their dreams.