According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the U.S. is now $35,551 per year. If you’re looking at a private university, it can cost upwards of $54,000. Students who don’t have that kind of dough lying around will likely need student loans.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has now opened for the 2023-2024 academic year. Experts suggest students apply for financial aid, even if they don’t think they will qualify. In fact, the Education Data Initiative says 86% of college students benefit from some form of financial aid. Data shows that public programs are often underutilized with over $2 billion in student grants alone left unclaimed each year.
CALCULATING THE NEED FOR FINANCIAL AID
Paying for higher education is often a complicated process. Students must figure the likely return on their investment for their school and area of study while simultaneously evaluating how debt may hinder their future buying power.
For those who need money for their education, now is the time to make your plan of attack. FAFSA has varying deadlines depending on the state in which you hope to attend college. States such as Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, and a few others want students to submit their applications as soon as possible after October 1, 2022, because awards are made until funds are depleted.
Other states have priority considerations deadlines, such as Kansas which favors students who apply before April 1, 2023. Still other states have hard-and-fast deadlines, such as Louisiana (July 1, 2024), Maine (May, 2023), and Maryland (May 1, 2023.
If that weren’t confusing enough, not only do deadlines vary from state to state, but they vary school to school as well. (Find state deadlines here, and make sure to check with your preferred schools for their deadlines as well.)
To break through the noise, we connected with Joshua Lachs, CEO of Moneythink, a platform helping parents and students make informed financial decisions. He walks us through the daunting FAFSA process while highlighting changes to this year’s form.
What tips do you have about how to navigate the FAFSA application process?
To start, parents, students and counselors need to pay attention to deadlines, as they vary by state. Ideally, students should create a FAFSA deadline calendar to ensure they apply on-time to increase their chances of qualifying.
Next, set aside a large chunk of time to fill out the FAFSA – there are a lot of questions and it can be a confusing process, especially when filling out for the first time, so it’s important that students and parents don’t rush through it. Lastly, figure out which documents you need in advance so that they are in reach when applying.
What do parents and students need to know about the form? What are the recent changes and what do they mean?
Recent changes to the FAFSA include:
- 36 questions to answer (previously 108 questions)
- Users filling out information can select their role in the application process — parent, preparer, or student
- Drug convictions will no longer affect student eligibility to receive federal student aid
- Male applicants who fill out the FAFSA can also qualify for federal student aid even if they don’t register for Selective Service
Does applying as soon as possible increase your chances of getting grants and scholarships?
Students who submit their FAFSA on the day that the FAFSA opens will greatly improve their chances of qualifying for as many scholarships and grants as possible.
What other insights would be helpful for undergrad students as they navigate this process?
As students navigate the FAFSA application process and from a general standpoint, having an understanding of financial aid and what is or isn’t affordable is critical. Award letters will be the single most important document a student will receive from a college and unfortunately, they can be hard to understand and at times, misleading, so it’s critical that they assess awards appropriately to ensure they understand the amount they will be responsible for paying after all awarded scholarships and grants related to the cost of attendance at the college are applied.
Taking advantage of free financial aid tools like DecidED can be a huge help. DecidED was designed to simplify the complicated financial aid process and provides students with resources, tools and guidance to compare college costs, financial aid benefits, and other factors so students can successfully graduate with the least amount of debt.