Confession time: have you been putting off filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? If you have, you’re not alone. A lot of students aren’t even sure they qualify for aid, let along want to take the time to fill out more forms. However, the government gives out $46 billion in student loans every year (and colleges and universities give out a ton as well—often based on the FAFSA). Furthermore, you might be surprised how much money you can get—yes, even if you or your parents are in a higher income bracket. So if you’ve been asking, should I fill out the FAFSA?, take Magoosh’s quiz and then come back to find out everything you need to know about this nifty little form!
FAFSA and Citizenship
One common misconception is that only U.S. citizens can receive federal financial aid. This isn’t true! It is true that most international students will not be eligible to receive financial aid. However, certain resident non-citizens can receive it. For example, if you are a permanent resident (in other words, if you have a green card), you can. As of the writing of this post, the same is true if you have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94), you or your parents hold a T nonimmigrant status, or you or a parent has battered immigrant-qualified alien status. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau are also eligible for some types of aid. Unfortunately, if you have received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), you are not currently eligible for federal aid—though you may be able to receive financial aid from your institution or the state.
FAFSA Income Limits
A lot of students asking, “Should I fill out the FAFSA?” worry that their parents make too much money for them to qualify for aid—and yet too little to be able to easily afford to pay for college out of pocket. The short answer is that if you could use the extra help, you should fill out the FAFSA: it’s used both for need-based and non-need-based aid, meaning that it can also help you get funds even if your income (or your parents’) is relatively high. Non-need-based aid is primarily in the form of direct unsubsidized loans, while need-based aid also includes subsidized loans and grants (money you don’t have to pay back).
If you’re still unsure whether you should fill out the FAFSA, try the FAFSA4caster. This tool can help you estimate your aid based on income, family size, college costs, and other factors. Of course, this is just an estimator (it’s not an application!), but it can give you a sense of the possibilities.
When Should I Fill Out My FAFSA?
FAFSA deadlines aren’t easy to understand. There’s the overall deadline, state deadlines, and college deadlines. Let’s do a deeper dive.
In a nutshell: applications open the fall of the year before you’ll attend school. So, if you’re planning on applying for financial aid for the 2020-2021 school year, applications will open in fall of 2019. They are then due in June of the year you’ll attend school. In our previous example, that would be June of 2020.
HOWEVER! With all of that said, colleges have their own deadlines, and so does each state.
You can fill out your FAFSA before you’ve been accepted to colleges, so it’s a good idea to submit the information as early as possible your senior year (and you can start gathering documents even earlier). However, know that colleges probably won’t offer you a financial aid package until you’ve been accepted, so you still may not have a precise idea of what’s affordable until then. Make sure you list the schools you’re interested in attending—even if you’re not sure—on the FAFSA so that they automatically receive your report!
Can Filling Out FAFSA Hurt You?
It certainly won’t hurt you financially. There are no income limits to apply, and the form itself is free.
If you are an undocumented immigrant, you will not receive aid; you need a social security number to apply. However, if you are a citizen but your parents are undocumented, it is still possible to apply; follow up with your school for more details on specifics.
But will filling out the FAFSA hurt your admission chances? Some argue that in the past, schools looked at where they rank on your list to see how much you want to go there. However, the Department of Education’s blog now states that colleges cannot see the other schools you’ve listed, so this should no longer be an issue. (If you’re still worried, put your schools in alphabetical order!)
A Final Word
Going to college can be pricy–but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a world of possibilities awaiting when you fill out the FAFSA! If you’re wondering,should I fill out the FAFSA, the answer is probably yes! Just make sure you come prepared with a knowledge of deadlines, documents, and opportunities, and fill it out thoroughly and carefully. Good luck!
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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
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