Senior Keyla Marte is heading to college and helping other students get there, as well.
As a peer leader with the College Summit program at Legacy High School for Integrated Studies, she says she fields a lot of questions about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
“They’re, like, confused, like what is a FAFSA and why do we need it? And How? And that’s the biggest question: ‘how are we going to do this? What do we need?’” says Marte.
The answer is a lot of information, much of it readily accessible, since a bulk of the application asks for simple demographic information about the student.
“They are going to need to know the student’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, etcetera,” says Kalman Chany, president of Campus Consultants Inc.
It’s not until the financial portion that things get a little more complicated. Parents will need their completed tax return—the actual return, not just their W-2—a commonly made mistake.
“Because on the W-2, you’ve got box two that tells you how much federal taxes was taken out of your check, but that’s not what you actually pay in taxes. Some folks get a refund or may owe taxes, so when you actually look at the tax return, that’s where you see how much you paid, so we see a lot of overestimates there,” says Michael Turner of the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation.
In order to prevent that type of error, the online application now has an IRS data retrieval tool which will download your tax information right into the form. And while it’s suggested that you file your taxes early in order to complete the FAFSA, you can submit the form using estimated figures.
“And then when your taxes are completed, you will need to revise your application, and that’s a new change in the procedure this year,” says Chany.
But keep in mind that colleges can’t make you a financial aid offer until they have your completed application, so filing your taxes and your FAFSA early is advised.
Once the form is complete, the information is then sent directly to the colleges you specify, and here again is another reason to file online.
“Doing it online allows a student to list up to 10 different colleges that they are applying to for admission, whereas if they do it on paper, there’s only a small amount of slots—up to three slots— that they can add those colleges that they are interested in,” says Turner.
To file online, visit fafsa.ed.gov.