Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in the financial aid process. It allows you to find out if you qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants, federal student loans, scholarships, and work-study.
The Foundation for Enhancing Communities (TFEC) utilizes FAFSA results to help determine applicants’ eligibility for many scholarships. With that in mind, it is vital to complete your FAFSA as soon as possible.
Luckily, just like a flagger guides you through construction zones, TFEC is here to provide you with tips to steer you toward the successful completion of the FAFSA. Let us get started!
1. Begin Your Application ASAP
- Shorter Timeline to Apply: Substantial changes were made to the FAFSA form, which delayed its availability to December 31, 2023 (rather than October 1, 2023).
- Financial Aid Eligibility Does Not Carry Over from One Year to the Next: Your financial information is used to calculate the amount of aid you annually receive. If your financial situation changes, you may be eligible for more or less aid.
- Upcoming Scholarship Deadlines: Numerous TFEC scholarship applications, which require FAFSA results, are due by March 15, 2024.
- Your Financial Aid Package: Completing your FAFSA earlier helps your potential college make their financial decision about your financial aid package. This will help you in determining your final school choice.
- *Tip: Utilize the PA Higher Education Assistance Agency’s (PHEAA) FASA Checklist to gather the materials you’ll need to complete it.
2. StudentAid.gov Account is Required to Access the FAFSA Form
You and your contributors (if you have any, they will be able to create an account too, even if they don’t have a social security number (SSN)/citizen of the Freely Associated States) need to create a StudentAid.gov account and username, a.k.a. Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). When your contributors have created their FSA accounts, everyone can complete their individual sections of the FAFSA.
*Tip: The ED FSA ID “How to Create an Account and Username (FSA ID) for StudentAid.gov” instructional video will assist you. Both you and a parent will be required to complete an FSA ID, each requiring an email and social security number.
3. Complete the Right FAFSA Form
Different situations warrant the completion of a different FAFSA form, submit the right form based on your conditions as follows:
- Attending college or career/trade school between 7/1/24 and 6/30/25 = Complete the 2024–25 FAFSA form, using your 2022 tax return documents.
- Attending summer classes = Contact your school’s financial aid office to ask which form to complete
4. Be Aware of New FAFSA Terminology
The new FAFSA includes terminology that replaces previously used terms. Here is a highlight of several changes provided by the Department of U.S. Education’s (ED) Federal Student Aid Office (FSA):
- Contributor: anyone (you, your spouse, your biological or adoptive parent, or your parent’s spouse) who is asked to provide their information, consent and approval to have their federal tax information transferred automatically from the IRS into the FAFSA form (more on that later), and signature on your FAFSA form.
- FAFSA Submission Summary: replaces the Student Aid Report (SAR) as the student’s output document providing a summary of data input on the FAFSA form. The Summary is not an aid offer; aid offers will come directly from any schools that you have been accepted to and listed on your FAFSA form.
- Family Size:replaces the term “household size” on the FAFSA form. It captures the appropriate number of family members and dependents in the applicant’s household.
- Negative Student Aid Index (Negative SAI):the Student Aid Index (SAI) can be a negative number (down to -1500) which can be used by institutions in determining students who have the most financial need. Students with a negative or 0 SAI are eligible for the maximum Federal Pell Grant. The difference is that a negative SAI indicates that a student has a higher need than a student with 0 SAI.
- Primary or Custodial Parent:for a dependent student whose parents are divorced or separated, the primary or custodial parent is the parent who provides the greater portion of the student’s financial support and is required to provide their information (and if applicable their spouse’s information) on the FAFSA form.
- Student Aid Index (SAI):replaces the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as a formal evaluation of a student’s approximate financial resources to contribute toward their postsecondary education for a specific award year.
- *Tip: Review the complete list of terminology updates on the ED FSA website here.
5. Utilize FAFSA Completion Assistance Resources
Free, online resources are available to help with completing your FAFSA form. School guidance counselors and college and career counselors are also useful resources. Do not hesitate to reach out to them. Additionally, many schools hold in-person FAFSA Completion Nights and Financial Aid Nights.
- ED FSA FAFSA Help (or call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243))
- PHEAA Webinar: FAFSA Overview—Line by Line: February 21, 6-7 pm
- ED FSA Knowledge Center Home
- PHEAA: Completion Help Events
6. Upon Completing Your FAFSA – Research Scholarships!
Take a break and breathe…you have submitted your FAFSA! It is an undertaking; however, you are not done yet! Research and apply for scholarships now. TFEC offers dozens of scholarships that may give you hundreds to thousands in funding per semester! Check them out here: The Foundation for Enhancing Communities Scholarships. Call or email us with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-236-5040. Also check out other local resources for scholarships, most high schools and colleges have a list. Remember, if you receive money that you do not have to pay back, you will be so grateful in years to come, i.e., apply for scholarships!
- ED FSA FAFSA Simplification Information
- ED FSA Key Terms, Definitions, and Systems Related to FAFSA Simplification and Future Acts
- ED FSA 7 Key Changes Coming to the 2024–25 FAFSA® Experience
- Sallie Mae The 7 Costliest FAFSA® Renewal Mistakes