The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is vital for students who may not be able to afford their college education outright.  By filling out the FAFSA, you are able to be eligible for federal grants, loans, work-study, and, more importantly, scholarships.  For non-first-generation families, the FAFSA is an undertaking.  For first-generation students and their families, the FAFSA can become overwhelming very quickly. In order to not get flustered by the FAFSA, many websites have provided tips for first-generation families, as well as anyone filling out the FAFSA for the first time, to make filling out the FAFSA more manageable.  The Federal Student Aid website has an excellent graphic explaining the Financial Aid Process, as well as a text only version.  They also have those same resources in a Spanish image version and a Spanish text-only version.

The first major step is to start your FAFSA application as soon as possible.  The FAFSA opens up on October 1 and you will be using the tax information from the year before, which allows for an estimate of the aid you can receive.  Once you file your taxes, you can update your information about three weeks after you and/or your parents file their taxes electronically.  If you or your parents file your taxes via a paper application, it could take up to 11 weeks.

Prior to doing the main FAFSA, it is highly recommended you get your Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID), which will be your username and password that you will use to complete the FAFSA online.  As part of getting your FSA ID, you will need to have your social security number.  If you are new to the system, it will potentially take up to three days for the Social Security Administration to process this information.  If you create the ID prior to starting your application, it will allow you to start your application sooner and cut down on the time it takes to process it. 

You will need to collect all the information needed to complete your FAFSA.  In January of 2021, Nerdwallet published a breakdown of what documents are needed for a US citizen and dependent student, a US citizen and independent student, a dependent student but not a US citizen, an independent student but not a US citizen, and a guide on how to answer FAFSA question based on your status.  Once you have collected all the documents needed for your category, you can then complete the FAFSA. 

If you are eligible to utilize the IRS data retrieval tool, you will find the FAFSA less complicated as the tools will pull information from your tax return right into your FAFSA application. If you are not eligible, you will need to complete the application question by question.  Please make sure that you document the educational level of your parents so that we can accurately code you as a first-generation student.  If you are doing this and a question arises or you are unsure, it is important to ask questions.  The Federal Student Aid information center is available to help answer questions:  800-4FED-AID (800-433-3243). 

After you complete the FAFSA and submit it, you and your family should sit down to discuss finances and how your education gets paid.  Expenses such as books, supplies, personal items, food outside of one’s meal plan, etc. should be discussed so that a plan is developed about who is paying for such items.  It is also important to look for scholarships and apply for them. 

There are other resources you can look at including:

The Federal Student Aid website also has resources regarding early preparation, FAFSA Booklets/Brochures on the Expected Family Contribution Formula, Spanish versions of the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet and Application form, and other questions that you may have. 

Once you have submitted your FAFSA application, you should receive confirmation from VWU that they have received your FAFSA application.  If you don’t get a confirmation within two weeks after you submitted, reach out to the VWU Financial Aid office asking if they received your application.

Once you receive your financial aid package, please reach out to the VWU Financial Aid office if you have any questions. 

This process must be repeated every year.  This is very important.