FAFSA? What's FAFSA? It's your Free Application for Financial Aid. Important stuff! But before diving into all that form-filling, here's a brief heads-up on some common terms.
1. FSA ID
Your Federal Student Aid Identification is the username and password you'll create to log in to the FAFSA website, as well as any other federal website that contains your education loan and grant information. It’s used in place of an electronic signature and also acts as a sign-in ID to initiate and amend forms.
Parents signing their children’s forms online also need their own FSA ID.
Your FSA ID also serves as your legal signature online, so be sure to carefully protect it.
See also: How Does the FAFSA Work?
2. Parent information
Parent information refers to the parental asset and income information you have to provide. Whose info you report can be tricky to figure out, but there are clear rules. If your parents are still married, report both of their incomes and assets. If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, report the financial information of the parent you lived with the most during the year. If that parent is married, you’ll also report step-parent income.
3. Independent Student
Students are classified as either dependent or independent students. Does it matter which status you have? Yes. Independent students can get more financial aid because their parental financial information doesn’t affect how much aid they receive.
So if an independent student made $10,000 in one year and her parents made $120,000, need-based financial aid is awarded solely on the student's $10,000 income.
Most students going straight from high school to college are considered dependent students, whether or not their parents contribute to their college expenses. The exceptions: students who were in foster care or are now married. Active duty military service also leads to independent status. Otherwise, being an independent student is generally based on age.
4. School Codes
Each school that qualifies for federal financial aid has an associated school code. But the schools you apply to won’t know you want financial aid unless you tell them. Filling in school codes on the FAFSA is your way of letting them know that, if you're accepted and decide to attend, you'd like them to give you some money.
The school codes are easy to find by using this link. Don’t forget a school code! Keep in mind that you're not in any way obligated to attend or even apply to schools listed, so it’s best to include any school that could be a potential college choice.
5. Financial aid
Anything from grants to scholarships to student loans is financial aid. When you fill out the FAFSA, you are asking about your financial aid eligibility. But you only accept what you want. For instance, you can reject all or part of the student loans you are offered. The biggest mistake you can make is not filling out the form, especially when part of the award could be money that doesn’t have to be repaid.
FAFSA help is available
Be sure to check our question-by-question FAFSA guide to help ensure that you qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid that you're entitled to.