The federal government awards about $125 billion for education in the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs. Whether you are going to college in Arizona or out-of-state, to get a piece of this educational pie you’ll need to complete a Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found here. This form automatically registers you for all qualified financial aid in Arizona and across the nation.
The FAFSA filing period opened on October 1 this year and can be completed anytime before June 30, 2018. However, many states have their own deadlines, while many colleges require the application to be filed by specific dates. For example, if you need financial aid for college in Arizona, FAFSA applications for the University of Arizona must be submitted by May 10, 2018, for those students attending the spring 2018 term. Arizona State’s priority filing date falls on January 1, although you can still submit the form later. However, priority filing ensures that you’ll receive the maximum amount of aid. Both Pima Community College and Northern Arizona University post a February 1, 2018, date for their priority deadline. For other colleges, visit the school’s website to find out their specific deadlines.
The FAFSA application process takes about a half hour if you have all your documents ready before you start. It’s guaranteed to be time well spent, but the process can also prove to be difficult for some prospective students. In order to give you the easiest route to get financial aid for college in Arizona or elsewhere, we’ve provided these step-by-step instructions for completing your FAFSA application.
Step 1: Gather Documents
In order to complete your FAFSA application, you’ll need the following forms:
- Most recent tax return forms (1040, etc.), W-2s, and other records of earned income
- Current statements from bank accounts, including checking and savings
- Current statements for any investments such as stocks or mutual funds, if applicable
- Records of untaxed income, if applicable (here is a list of what the IRS considers to be taxable income)
- Records of assets such as investment real estate, if applicable
- Social Security number (or alien registration number if a non-citizen)
- Driver’s license
If you don’t possess hard copies of these documents or want to speed up the process, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This tool allows you to link to your and your parent’s tax information for the latest year with a single click.
Step 2: Create an FSA ID
To begin completing your FAFSA application, you’ll need to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Record your ID because you’ll need it to access your financial aid information from here on out. If you’ve previously started a FAFSA application, you can choose the “returning user” login. This retains any personal information previously entered into the system. Here you’ll also be asked which school year you plan to attend. After logging in, you’re taken to a screen that answers some basic FAFSA questions, along with instructions on how to navigate the site. This includes instructions on how to save and later return to your session.
Step 3: Student Eligibility
The first section asks for your basic personal information and is the easiest to complete. This information includes your high school, when you plan to start college, and your parent’s education. In this section, you’ll also be able to enroll in the federal work-study program. This program allows you to work a part-time job and earn money to help with education expenses. Finally, you have to assert that you’ve registered for Selective Service (the military draft). While the US no longer uses a draft system, you still need to register in order to receive federal aid in Arizona and nationwide.
Tip: You can qualify for additional state grants if you’re the first in your family to attend college.
Step 4: School Selection
In this section of the FAFSA application, you enter the schools where you plan to apply. You can add up to 10 schools on the list. Each school has a specific federal code that needs to be entered into the form. You can find these federal codes on the school’s website. For example, if you’re seeking aid at an Arizona college, here are the major school codes:
University of Arizona – 001083
Arizona State University – 001081
Northern Arizona University – 001082
Don’t worry if you haven’t finalized your decision because you can add or delete schools at a later time. The form will then ask you if you plan to live on campus, off campus, or with your parents. Your living arrangements impact how much you receive since those living on campus generally need more aid for room and board.
Step 5: Dependency
In general terms, being independent means that you don’t depend on your parents or guardians for your basic needs. But FAFSA has a specific definition of what constitutes being independent. You’re considered dependent unless you are:
- 24 years old by December 31 of the year you expect the award
- A graduate or professional student during the year you expect the award
- Married (or separated)
- A parent or have other dependents who currently receive more than half their support from you
- An orphan or a ward of the court
- A veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces
If you fit any of the above conditions, then you are classified as independent and won’t be asked about your parent’s finances, and you can skip to step 7.
Step 6: Parent Information
Here you enter your parent’s date of birth, how many children they support, and if they have additional children in college. These answers all impact how the federal government calculates your aid. For example, older parents are expected to contribute less for their children’s education because they are closer to retirement. Parents are also expected to contribute less if they have children in college.
Tip: If your parents are divorced, only include the information for the parent you live with for the majority of the year. If that parent has remarried, you’ll need to enter the step parent’s financial information.
Step 7: Financial Information
Here’s where you’ll need those tax forms to report financial information about yourself and your parents. For you, this means how much you have in savings and how much taxable income you earned last year. In addition to income, your parents need to report any investments such as money market accounts, mutual funds or 529 college savings accounts. Remember that you can also use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to speed past this section.
Tip: Retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k), or pension plans are not counted as assets and won’t need to be recorded in this section.
Step 8: Sign and Submit
Okay, you’re just about done! Now you’ll just need to add your electronic signature to submit your application. Remember that FSA ID from the beginning? Hopefully you held onto that number because you’ll need it here. If you didn’t create an FSA ID, you’ll be prompted to create one now.
Once you enter your electronic signature, simply click submit and you’re good to go. Within a week, you’ll receive an email instructing you on how to view your Student Aid Report (SAR). This report provides an approximate amount that the federal government expects you to pay, called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). After submitting your application, you can log in to your account to make changes or check on the progress of your application.
Step 9: Wait
This part is the worst. Now you just sit and wait. Each college determines exactly how much aid you receive. After a few weeks to a month, you should receive an award letter detailing your aid package. You can accept the package in full, reject it, or reduce the amount. Why would you want to reduce the amount of aid you get? Sometimes, colleges offer you more than you need to provide for living expenses. Keep in mind that you must repay the entire loan. If you don’t think you’ll need every dollar in aid, feel free to make adjustments and send it back to the particular school.
Hopefully this guide makes your FAFSA application process a bit easier. Entering college can be an overwhelming time, full of endless forms and new terms. Knowing how to navigate the college landscape ensures that you’ll be able to take full advantage of the educational opportunities that await you. Good luck on your future endeavors.