To take advantage of the two best ways to obtain financial aid, families should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile). Submitting the FAFSA greatly increases the likelihood that a student will receive financial aid because it’s the only means of obtaining it from the Federal government. Many colleges also require the FAFSA in order to consider applicants for their institution’s financial aid programs.
Some colleges require an additional financial aid application called the CSS Profile. This is an online application used by colleges and scholarship programs to award non-governmental financial aid. The Profile should be submitted by students applying to colleges or private scholarship programs that request it.
The FAFSA for Student Financial Aid
The Federal government allocated $120 billion for student financial aid in 2021, yet 47% of college applicants didn’t even submit a FAFSA — the only way to access their share of these funds. Although 53% did submit the FAFSA, this was 5% less than the previous year. College-bound students leave billions of dollars in aid funding on the table every year.
The FAFSA is managed by the U.S. Education Department (ED). The ED uses it to dispense the funds allocated by Congress to Federal financial aid programs. The ED sends also FAFSA data to states and colleges that use it to determine award in their own aid programs.
The FAFSA is available online at studentaid.gov and FAFSA.gov on October 1st of a student’s senior year. The Federal deadline for submission is the June 30th after senior year, but most colleges have earlier deadlines. Deadlines for states vary widely. Sixteen states list their deadline as “ASAP after October 1st”. Students should research the deadlines for their state and the colleges to which they’ll be applying.
For those planning to begin college in fall of 2023, the FAFSA becomes available on October 1st, 2022. It is often submitted within a few days of availability by students who seek funds from programs that are on a “first-come, first-served” basis.
A student’s first task in securing financial aid should be to open a FAFSA account with the ED on their financial aid website at studentaid.gov or on FAFSA.gov. Students need only provide their name, social security number, home address, and either an email address or mobile phone number to set up an account.
Information Needed for the FAFSA
The FAFSA requests information about the financial circumstances of the student and, if applicable, their spouse or family. The following basic information is required:
- Social Security number,
- Social Security number of a parent for dependent students,
- Student driver’s license number,
- Alien Registration number for non-citizens,
- Federal tax information for the student if independent, with their spouse if married and filing jointly, or for the student and parents if dependent, and
- A summary of assets such as bank balances, investments (including securities and real estate other than the primary residence), and family business and farm assets.
For students applying to colleges in the 2022-23 admission cycle, the IRS tax information required from them and their families is from tax year 2021. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool automatically transfers tax information to the FAFSA from the IRS. Students and families are advised to use this tool.
Within three weeks of submitting the FAFSA, applicants are provided with a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR provides the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount that the ED calculates that a family can afford to pay towards the costs of college. SAR data is provided to the colleges designated by the student on the FAFSA, to appropriate state agencies, and to other designated sources of financial aid.
Often, the EFC is higher than the amount of an applicant’s anticipated college costs. This means that the applicant needs to secure external funding to bridge the gap between the total cost of attending college and what they can realistically afford to pay from their own savings, investments, and cash flow. External funds may be from the Federal and state aid programs available to them, the college they attend, or private sources.
Applicants typically receive a financial aid award letter from colleges around the time that they receive their college admission decisions, but they may receive it any time from October to April. Financial aid award letters are created by each individual college to provide information on their cost of attendance and to detail the amounts available to them in grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, and loans that the student is eligible to receive from the college and governmental agencies.
The FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020
The purpose of the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020 was to modify the FAFSA and its rules to make it easier to complete and fairer to all applicants. Some of the provisions are already in effect and others will become effective over the next two years. The cutover to the new FAFSA will be complete by June 30, 2024. The changes are noted below:
- Eliminates the term EFC and replaces it with Student Aid Index (SAI). Since this doesn’t fix the problem of a family not knowing the true cost of a college until they send a Financial Aid Award Letter; other changes have been made to mitigate this problem (see COA below).
- Re-defines Cost of Attendance (COA) to include tuition/fees, housing/meals, books/ materials, transportation, Federal loan fees, and fees for licenses and certifications. Stipulates that the itemized COA must be disclosed on a college’s website.
- A family’s Income Protection Allowance (IPA) shelters part of their income from the SAI. The new rules increase the IPA by 35%, or $9,410, per dependent student in 2022-23.
- Changes the rule on parental information required from “The parent you lived with more during the past 12 months” to “The parent who provides more financial support”.
- Untaxed income no longer needs to be reported.
- There is now a process for updating key information on the FAFSA. FAFSA updates must be submitted no later than September 10, 2023.
- Distributions from a grandparent’s 529 account no longer need to be reported.
- Raises the Adjusted Gross Income exemption from $50,000 to $60,000.
- Expands the authority of financial aid administrators so that they may exercise judgement in cases of natural disasters, economic downturns, and business losses.
- Families will no longer receive a financial benefit for having two or more children attending college at the same time.
- Reduces the number of questions on the FAFSA from 81 to 36.
The CSS Profile
Students seeking financial aid from any of colleges in the CSS program must submit an application form known as the CSS Profile. These are selective institutions with resources that enable them to offer extensive student aid.
The CSS Profile is a product of the College Board, the non-profit organization that administers the PSAT, SAT, Advanced Placement, and the College Level Examination Program. It is an association with over 6,000 secondary schools and colleges as members.
The CSS Profile becomes available on the College Board’s website on October 1st of a student’s senior year. Deadlines for submission vary by college. Rather than wait, many applicants submit their Profile as soon as possible because college financial aid programs are on a first-come, first-served basis.
Families should brace themselves for the CSS Profile. The Chronicle of Higher Education calls it the “Most onerous form in college admissions.” Families should anticipate that questions of a personal and detailed nature will be asked. They range from the value of a family’s primary residence and family-owned business to the cost of private primary and secondary education for siblings. For families with students who aspire to attend a CSS college and need outside financial help to do so, it’s worth some unpleasantness and discomfort for a chance to receive substantial financial aid via the CSS Profile.
Admit You to College Helps Parents
The annual Admit You to College Financial Aid Parent Workshop will be held on Zoom on October 12th at 6:00 PM Pacific Time. Our families have received an email about how to register for this event.