What happens after you file the FAFSA and going through the verification process?

This time of year, myself and my co-workers are busy helping students and their families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  It is important to realize that completing this application is just the first step in the process of applying for and eventually receiving financial aid.  

Hopefully, a student does not complete the FAFSA and just forget about it until that first bill comes from the college in early August. There are usually some additional steps that must be taken before a college sends an award letter to the student informing them of what kinds of financial aid they could expect to receive.  I will outline what happens after the FAFSA is completed.

After a FAFSA is submitted, the student will receive an email within 3-7 days with a link back to the FAFSA website allowing them to view or print their results (Student Aid Report, or SAR).  If the student did not provide an email address, the SAR will be mailed to the student after approximately 10 days.  The SAR will tell the student if there any “issues” with application and tell them how to resolve them (such as a missing signature, for example).  It will also tell the student whether or not they have been selected for a process called verification.

If a student is selected for verification, it means that the colleges that the student listed on the FAFSA are required to verify the information provided before awarding financial aid.  Usually, about 1/3 of the applicants are selected for this process.  If you notice on the SAR that you have been selected for this process, you do not have to do anything immediately, the colleges will let the student know what to do next.

When the college contacts the student to gather the verification information, there are two main things to keep in mind:  timeliness and accuracy.  Whenever a college asks for more information, be sure to respond in a timely manner.  Remember, some financial aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis, and you do not want to miss out on financial aid because you delayed in getting information back to the college.

On the verification form, it will explain what the college needs in the form of tax returns and additional documentation.  Be sure to answer all of the questions completely and follow the directions.

One question on the verification form that students might have difficulty with is when it asks about Household Size. There are many situations where a family has a son or daughter that does NOT LIVE in the household, however, they should still be included in the number in the household on the FAFSA.

It is important to know who should be considered in the household size number.  The question and the explanation about who should be included is from the actual Financial Aid Application below:

How many people are in your parents’ household?
Include: • yourself, even if you don’t live with your parents, • your parents, • your parents’ other children (even if they do not live with your parents) if (a) your parents will provide more than half of their support between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, or (b) the children could answer “No” to every question in Step Three on page 5 of this form, and • other people if they now live with your parents, your parents provide more than half of their support and your parents will continue to provide more than half of their support between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.

Here are the questions in Step Three:
46. Were you born before January 1, 1995? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 47. As of today, are you married? (Also answer “Yes” if you are separated but not divorced.) . . . . . . . . . .
 48. At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program (such as an MA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, EdD, graduate certificate, etc.)?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
49. Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces for purposes other than training? See Notes page 9. . . . .
50. Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces? See Notes page 9.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
51. Do you now have or will you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 52. Do you have dependents (other than your children or spouse) who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2019? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
53. At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court? See Notes page 10.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
54. As determined by a court in your state of legal residence, are you or were you an emancipated minor? See Notes page 10. . . . 55. Does someone other than your parent or stepparent have legal guardianship of you, as determined by a court in your state of legal residence? See Notes page 10. . . . . .
56. At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless? See Notes page 10. . . . . .

57. At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless? See Notes page 10. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

58. At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless? See Notes page 10. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So, for the most part, until a son or daughter turns 24, gets married, or has a child that they provide more than ½ the support for, they would have to use their parents information if they were to apply for financial aid.  Therefore, they should also be used as a number in the parent’s household on a dependent student’s application, even if they do not actually live there!  This can be confusing but it is very important!

The key to be taken away from all of this is to be sure to ask for help from the college or any ICAN Student Success Advisor if you have ANY questions about this process.  Again, accuracy is very important and I have seen instances where students have missed out on thousands of dollars of grant money because of answering this question incorrectly!

Appointments to get assistance in completing the FAFSA or in getting help with the verification process can be made by either calling 877-272-4692 or by going to www.icansucceed.org/apt.

John - ICAN Waterloo & Hiawatha Centers

That “Nasty” Federal Student Aid ID

Those of us who work at ICAN constantly deal with the challenges of the Federal Student Aid ID.  This is the username, password, and email address that gets you into the FAFSA and signs the FAFSA electronically.  It also gives students access to three other Federal Student Aid websites.  There has been a lot of stress, confusion, and frustration in connection with the FSA ID involving students and parents.

Why is it so nasty?  People often don’t do a good job of keeping track of the username, password, and email address.  This is just a lack of human organization.  Once a Federal Student Aid ID is created, a new one cannot be created.  You must discover the original FSA ID.  There are a set of challenge questions created in the FSA ID, but they work a small percent of the time because people create bad challenge questions and don’t know the answers to the challenge questions.  Recovery by email is the most successful, but some people don’t know the password to their email.  The FSA ID needs to be written down and kept in a safe place.

But there is hope on the horizon!  Federal Student Aid (organization that oversees the student financial aid process on the federal level) has added a new method to recover the FSA ID through cell phone texting .  This is similar to the email recovery except a six digit code will be sent to your mobile phone.  So if you as a student or parent of a dependent student are going to create a FSA ID for the first time, you now have the option to include a cell phone number for recovery by text.  If you already created an FSA ID before May 14, 2017, you can log in to the FSA ID and add your cell phone number.  It will have to be verified by your cell phone text function with the six digit code to make it active.

Here are directions to add cell phone text recovery:

Log in to an already existing FSA ID go to: fsaid.ed.gov.  Click on the Manage My FSA ID tab.  Log in with either the user name or email address used in the FSA ID and with the password.  Click yes to the security statement.  Click yes to add mobile phone texting.  Then add in the cell number twice and verify with the six digit code through a text sent to your phone, and you are good to go!  If a parent has an FSA ID, do the same with the parent FSA ID.

For security reasons, your password for your FSA ID will need to be changed every 18 months.  So if you encounter a red warning with your FSA ID, it will tell you that the password has to be changed.  Just click on change password and follow the steps.  The best method to be successful with the FSA ID is to write down your user name, password, and email address and keep it all in a safe place.   Hopefully this will make the FSA ID more manageable and less “nasty.”

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center

FAFSA - Mobile App Coming Soon

Last week Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that a new FAFSA Mobile App was being developed  as part of an effort to modernize the federal student aid system. 

The hope is the new app will make it easier for students in completing the FAFSA and also help them in managing their student loan debt. 

Right now,  only 60% of HS seniors fill out the FAFSA form.  Completion rates are the lowest among low income students which means billions of dollars of financial aid are being left on the table. 

The launch of the new app is scheduled for April.  I assume most in Higher Education sees this announcement as a good thing for students/families but this new app is just one step in making the the financial aid process smoother for students.  

Simplifying the actual FAFSA form itself would be a huge help as well.  In fact, Congress is having hearings about this very topic this week.   

While almost everyone agrees that the FAFSA needs to be simplified,   Congress has to be careful not to OVER simplify it or you could actually add more "paperwork" for students.  Over simplifying the FAFSA questions would probably lead to more institutional financial aid forms needing to be filled out  by families/students.  Those are unintended consequences that need to be avoided.   

As more details come out,   we at ICAN will do our best to keep students/families informed.   I can't wait to see how the Mobile App will look and see how user friendly it is.

Erick - ICAN Ankeny and Des Moines Centers         

The Pros & Cons of Cars on Campus

There are many things that students, and parents, should consider when it comes to transportation while at college. Whether or not to have a car on campus is one of those considerations. Having a car on campus can be convenient; however, there are added costs to think about including parking, insurance, and maintenance

Some colleges have free parking while others might require the student to purchase a parking permit. Usually, the further away from the campus the parking lot is, the cheaper the permit might be. Be sure to look at all of the parking options.

College Students who leave their cars at home—or those who take them to campus while keeping the car’s permanent address at their parents’ home—can stay on their parents’ auto insurance policy. Students can keep insurance premiums from drastically increasing by following a few smart pieces of advice:

  • Be a conservative driver. You’ll not only keep yourself and other motorists safe, but you’ll also give your wallet a boost. The biggest things that drive up premiums are accidents and tickets. Obey posted speed limits, observe the rules of the road and, most important, avoid distracted driving.
  • Guard your key or key fob. More often than not, cars get stolen when owners leave keys out in the open or somewhere obvious like under the mat or visor.
  • Keep an extra long distance from—or just avoid—certain vehicles. It’s common to see windshield damage that results from debris escaping from landscaping and dump trucks. If you’re in that situation, either safely pass the vehicle or pull over so you aren’t riding right behind the vehicle.
  • Hide the high-value stuff. Experts say most thefts occur when items like GPS devices, computers and smart phones are left out in plain view of passersby. Reduce temptation by putting them in a bag or storing them in your trunk. This is especially important during the holiday shopping season.
As far as maintenance goes:
  • Stick to a maintenance schedule. Mom and Dad aren’t taking care of things anymore, so show your car some love by maintaining it. Check the air filter, automatic transmission fluid level, accessory belts, brake fluid, battery, power-steering fluid and coolant. Also check the windshield wipers and amount of windshield washer fluid, hoses, wiring and the oil level on the dipstick. And last, regularly check the tires and keep them properly inflated.
  • Take extra precautions with used cars. Some—like inexpensive reconstructed title cars that have been rebuilt after being damaged—may be unreliable. For about $50, you can know for sure by having a mechanic look it over before you buy, or purchase a vehicle history report.
These are just a few things to consider. At many colleges, a car on campus might not be a necessity, just a convenience. Remember, it can turn out to be a costly convenience!

John Holland - ICAN Waterloo & Hiawatha Centers

Contacting College Admissions Offices With Questions

I’ve been working in Higher Ed for more than 10 years, and I still spend a lot of time contacting college admissions offices with questions.  If you are a prospective college student or parent, please don’t feel like you have to know everything about the college admissions process.  Often, not always, a specific admission counselor will be assigned to your high school, and admission counselors can help you navigate the college admissions process. 

As I review college scholarship pages online, I often find that I need more information about the eligibility criteria for the various scholarships that are available.  When I get to that point, I pick up the phone and call college admissions offices for clarification.  Inevitably, I learn something new.  So students, and parents, please don’t hesitate to contact college admissions offices with your questions. 

If you would like to familiarize yourself with some general information regarding college planning, including the college admissions process, I would recommend that you check out ICAN’s College Planning Tips from The Resource Zone:

Troy - ICAN Ankeny & Des Moines Centers

ScholarshipMastery.com – How do you do scholarships?

When I was a high school counselor I would have a lot of parents and students ask, “How do you do scholarships?”  I would give some common sense answers, but I never felt like I was really helping them very well.  Then I discovered scholarshipmastery.com

Scholarshipmastery.com is actually a free, non-credit scholarship course.  It was designed by Adam Carroll.  Adam is a financial literacy educator who spoke at my high school when I was a high school counselor.  He had a very common sense approach to money and scholarships.  His goal is for every student who uses his system is to be debt free when they finish college.  When he was a high school senior, Adam’s dad told him that for every dollar in scholarships he received, he would give him 50 cents.  Dad knew Adam was motivated by the extra dollars that he could get, so he went after scholarships aggressively.

Scholarshipmastery.com is free.  All you have to do is enter your first name and email address into the website, and you have access to four free videos online.  The videos are entitled: “Finding the Funding” (43 minutes);” Applying with Ease” (15 minutes); “Killer Essays” (34 minutes); and “Acing the Interview” (28 minutes).  It is not required to watch all four videos at one sitting.

Adam gives a lot of tips of how to find sources of scholarships and how to utilize parents to help with the work.  Of particular value is his instruction on writing a good scholarship essay by using mind mapping and how to structure an essay.  The “Acing the Interview” video is helpful for preparing for a scholarship interview, but it could also double as good instruction for a job interview as well.  He has a list of commonly asked questions in interviews along with a workbook that is available for download as organizers for the whole scholarship process.

Check it out!  If you are serious about minimizing student loans and maximizing your efforts in applying for scholarships, go to scholarshipmastery.com

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center

Get the Most Out of College - Go to School Sponsored Events

College is fun! During your time in college you will meet people who will become lifelong friends. You will have good and bad experiences and you’ll learn from both. College is also expensive, you’re paying thousands of dollars every year to get a good quality education, but all your time shouldn’t be spent in the library or in your room studying. Take care of your academics, of course, but also leave some time to have fun. Free fun is even better.

Most colleges do an amazing job of planning very fun campus events. College have various activities for students to take part in such as lectures from famous artists/writers, art showings, hypnotists, formals, color runs…just to name a few. Your Student Activities Office is the office in charge of planning these events, so make sure to read their emails and promotional posters all over campus. If you’d like to be a part of the group that organizes these events you can join the student activities organization. There are also inter-murals that you can take part in and Greek life as well.

During your first few weeks in college resist the urge to go home every weekend. I know you’ll be home sick and you’ll miss your friends, but give your college campus a chance. The weekend is when the fun stuff happens and if you leave every Friday and return every Sunday afternoon, you don’t know what you’re missing. And again…it’s FREE. 

Lupe - ICAN Coralville & Davenport Centers