The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is parents’ most powerful tool for helping their child afford education after high school.  Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Your child needs your help to complete the form.

Most students are considered dependent students and cannot complete their FAFSA without a parent also completing their part of the FAFSA. Dependency on the FAFSA is different than it is for taxes. We made this flow chart to help you figure out who to list as the child’s parent. 

Who do you list as your parent
  1. Your child most likely qualifies for aid

Most families in Alabama qualify for one or more types of federal student aid.  The type of aid varies greatly from Pell grants to work-study to subsidized or unsubsidized loans.  The aid may be used for technical or academic programs at two- or four-year colleges or universities. If you do not apply, you will not know your eligibility and will leave money on the table. Read more about the different types of aid here.

  1. Preparation helps

Before you sit down to start the FAFSA, there are some steps you can take to make the application’s completion go more smoothly.  Have your prior-prior year tax return to ensure you have the exact address where you filed to successfully use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, or if you did not file taxes, have your W2 or other income information. Also have ready records of untaxed income and bank statements.

  1. Speed up the process with the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

When completing the FAFSA, it requires you to enter your income information, preferably through the IRS Data Retrieval tool. By entering key information, the system is able to pull up your prior-prior year tax return. The tool allows the government to ensure the accuracy of income information and process applications quickly. When families do not use the tool, they are more likely to be selected for verification.  Verification requires submitting extra documentation to each college your child is applying to and delays your child’s selection for aid.

  1. It’s for scholarships, too!

The FAFSA is an assessment of a student’s financial need and is used by colleges and private foundations to award need-based scholarships. Many colleges also require it for merit-based scholarships.

  1. Watch for the Student Aid Report

After submitting the FAFSA, your child will receive a Student Aid Report detailing aid eligibility or listing items that need to be corrected or verified. It’s important to immediately review the report and take action on any requested changes as soon as possible.

  1. It’s ok to ask for help

The FAFSA is a complicated form and it’s important to complete it as accurately as possible to access the most potential aid for your child’s college education. Reach out to your child’s high school counselor or career coach who may be hosting completion activities. You can also contact the college your child aspires to attend and talk to a financial aid officer. These resources can also help you understand the Student Aid Report.

Complete the FAFSA at fafsa.gov