Figuring out the FAFSA

Funding education can be difficult and expensive. Students are encouraged to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; however, applying is a process in itself.

Sara Lynn Charleston, manager of accounts receivable at Kent State, said the FAFSA focuses on financial aid for the student from the previous year. This is why when students apply, their tax information as well as their parents’ tax information from the previous year is needed.

All students are eligible to apply for the FAFSA. The key component is the need for financial assistance.

“It really establishes a framework for putting students on the same level financially,” Charleston said.

Because the FAFSA requires tax information, some students are reluctant to fill it out until they know they do not owe anything on their taxes. However, students can submit the FAFSA without their tax information and file later. Waiting to file your taxes before applying for the FAFSA can delay the overall process and the amount of funding available, Charleston explained.

“It’s unfortunate because there are some excellent students who don’t apply early enough,” she said.

Students should fill out the FAFSA even if they do not think they are eligible to receive aid. Sometimes information for the FAFSA does not change from year to year, but sometimes it does. The information the FAFSA requires of the student allows the institution to award financial aid to students, Charleston said.

The verification process is another part of submitting the FAFSA. Students who are pulled for verification must prove that their FAFSA information is accurate. While it is a delay in the financial aid process, schools must pull students to prove they are careful with funding, Charleston said. She explained that during the process, the money does not disappear – it is just on hold until the documentation is verified.

Eight sections compose the FAFSA in the form of worksheets. Sections are devoted to the status of the student to see if he or she is independent or dependent. If a student is dependent, then parents must provide their tax information and sign the form. Other sections of the form look at student finances, the household of the student, parent finances, and school information.

Freshman exploratory major Katelyn Smith said it is not hard to complete the FAFSA. It helps to keep track of things such as income for the year, when students plan to graduate and scholarships they have received, she said.

“I usually do it myself,” Smith said. “I do everything I can answer and my mom does the parent financial part.”

The FAFSA comes in a paper form, or students can apply online. The difference between the two methods is time. Charleston said the FAFSA process takes half the time when done online.

Conni Dubick, associate director of student financial aid, agrees applying online is more timely. While some students may not feel comfortable submitting personal information online, Dubick said it is important for students to know the official Web site to complete the FAFSA, www.fafsa.ed.gov, is a government site and is secure.

Dubick said the federal government has shifted priority to online applicants because there has been a trend of more students applying online.

“Because society is changing in terms of online banking and paying bills online, people are much more ready to apply online because they do it in other parts of their life,” Dubick said.

In terms of making mistakes on the application, there is less potential to do this when applying online, Dubick said. If figures are inaccurate or something is left blank, the student cannot submit it.

“It’s ideal because it tells you what line to insert your information in,” she said. “It’s easier than your taxes. It’s more basic.”

LaKeisha Johnson, junior justice studies major, has always submitted the FAFSA online. She just calls her mother and gets her information over the phone while she is at the computer, she said.

“You can’t get past the student section until you call your parents,” she said.

For Johnson, applying for the FAFSA is doesn’t take as long as people think. Yes, the information goes through faster, but the process of sitting down and having all the information in order takes time.

“This is the most irritating thing to do every year,” Johnson said. “It’s not difficult, it’s just time consuming.”

There are many opinions about the difficulty of filling out FAFSA. However, it cannot be forgotten that the FAFSA is the standard for financial aid and tells students and schools what state and federal aid is available to them. The Kent State student financial aid Web site, www.sfa.kent.edu, has links to the FAFSA and has information for students to help aid in the process, Dubick said.

“We want to help students learn about their financial information, their responsibility and ask questions,” Dubick said. “Our goal is to empower students to go online and see what they need.”

The deadline for the FAFSA application is June 30.

Contact features correspondent TaLeiza Calloway at [email protected]