The U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office has a "one-size-fits-all" form for all types of student aid, called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA is something like an aid seeker's resume. It's a financial profile that the federal government, many states and some schools use to determine eligibility for student aid. Students are asked to report assets, debts and other personal information -- for themselves, their parents and their spouse, if applicable.
Like a resume, the FAFSA should accurately describe an applicant's financial situation, yet it still needs to show him or her as the most qualified candidate. Knowingly giving false information, however, can carry stiff penalties -- up to $20,000 in fines and 20 years in prison.
While completing the form online is faster and easier, hard copies can be used. Some of the steps in submitting a FAFSA include:
- Check deadlines -- Federal Student Aid must receive the FAFSA by June 30, before the school year for which aid is sought. Some schools have earlier, "priority" deadlines for limited awards like the FSEOG.
- Determine eligibility -- Besides academic status, eligibility is affected by an applicant's financial dependence or independence, service in the military, and any prior drug convictions.
- Gather supporting documents -- Federal Student Aid wants proof of the applicant's identity and financial need. A driver's license, tax forms, bank statements and other papers showing debt and income may all be required.
- Sign the application -- Applicants can sign the FAFSA electronically using a PIN (personal identification number), which they're assigned in the process, or by printing, signing and mailing the signature page.
- List school codes -- Students list the code numbers of the schools they want their Student Aid Report sent to (see below).
- Review the Student Aid Report -- Once their application has been processed, students receive their Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR rates their financial need and includes an all-important figure: the expected family contribution, or EFC. This is the amount of money the government determines the applicant or family can pay. It's based on the household income and assets minus basic living expenses. For an FSEOG, an EFC of $0 is ideal. However, the school's cost of attendance affects whether an EFC disqualifies a student for a grant.
- Update as needed -- Requests for an FSEOG must be repeated annually. The FAFSA should be updated to reflect any relevant changes in the applicant's situation.
For lots more information on financial aid, see the links on the next page.