FAFSA FAQs for Parents of Teens

By Huntington Learning Center

If you’ve got a college-bound teen, you’re probably at least a little familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but do you know how this application can affect your teen’s future?

Here are some frequently asked questions about the FAFSA and the process of applying for and getting federal student aid:

What is the FAFSA? The FAFSA is an application, but it is also your family’s gateway to getting financial aid to pay for college. Your teen cannot get federal student aid (such as federal grants, work-study, and loans) if they don’t complete the FAFSA. And many states and colleges use it to determine student eligibility for state and school aid, too.

When should we complete the FAFSA? For the 2019-2020 school year, students and/or parents can apply between October 1, 2018 and June 30, 2020. For the 2020-2021 school year, students and/or parents can apply between October 1, 2019 and June 30, 2021. Keep in mind, however, that many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for state and college aid. Your teen should check with the college to be sure.

Who is eligible to receive financial aid? The FAFSA website lists the specific, detailed requirements, but generally, students must hold a high school diploma or General Education Development certificate and be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate, maintaining satisfactory academic progress. They must be U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens with Social Security Numbers, not be in default on any federal student loans, not have any convictions for the possession or sale of illegal drugs, and register with the Selective Service System if male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

What do students need to complete the FAFSA? Students and/or parents need a Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number, federal income tax returns, W-2s, and records of taxed or untaxed income, bank and investment records, and an FSA ID, which parents and students can create at https://fsaid.ed.gov.

When are state student aid and college aid deadlines? They vary from state to state, college to college. It’s best to contact the colleges your teen is interested in attending to find out for sure.

Should my teen apply to colleges before completing the FAFSA? Applicants have to list at least one college that will receive their FAFSA information, but they don’t have to wait until they have applied to list a school. Your teen should list all schools they’re interested in (up to 10 are allowed). If your teen later considers a new school, they can submit a correction to the FAFSA online.

Are grades a factor for financial aid? They are not. However, students must maintain satisfactory academic progress to continue receiving federal student aid. Each school has its own policy for what that means (typically a minimum GPA and number of credits per year), so check with the college.

Does my teen have to apply one time only? No, your teen needs to submit the FAFSA every year. It is possible that the aid package awarded to him or her will change after the first year. Your teen also needs to make satisfactory academic progress in order to remain eligible for federal aid. In other words, students who earn poor grades in college are putting their financial aid eligibility at risk.

Once we’ve applied, what happens? Your teen’s application will be processed by the U.S. Department of Education within 3-10 days. After that, your teen will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information provided on the FAFSA and includes an Expected Family Contribution. Colleges use this figure to determine federal and nonfederal student aid and to create student award packages.

How is the Expected Family Contribution calculated? This federal formula considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (like unemployment), as well as your family size and the number of family members in college that year. Expected Family Contribution is not an amount of money your family is required to pay for college or the amount of financial aid your teen will be eligible to receive.

For more frequently asked questions and detailed information about federal student aid the FAFSA, visit https://fafsa.ed.gov.