Students should act quickly to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) after it becomes available on October 1.
That was one of the key takeaways from the Education Matters 2018 Financial Aid Call-in on September 11, 2017. Host Renee Shaw spoke with a panel of financial aid professionals to answer questions from students and parents around Kentucky. This year’s panelists were:
- Michael Birchett, Financial Aid Director at Bluegrass Community and Technical College
- Victoria Owens, Executive Financial Aid Director at Simmons College of Kentucky
- Bryan Erslan, Director of Student Financial Assistance at Eastern Kentucky University<
- Kate Ware, Student Aid Branch Manager for the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA)
When to Apply for Financial Aid
- The FAFSA form for students attending college or university in the 2018/2019 school year will become available at midnight on October 1, 2017. All of the panelists recommend that students complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after that point.
- The deadline for the 2018/2019 FAFSA isn’t until June 2019, but don’t put it off. State and institutional programs have limited funds available and are typically awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Last year, the Kentucky Tuition Grant and College Access Program were both tapped out by February; Erslan recommends getting the application in no later than Christmas in order to be considered for those funds.
- Students starting college with the spring 2019 semester should complete the 2018/2019 FAFSA when it becomes available on October 1. Those starting with the spring 2018 semester should have completed the 2017/2018 FAFSA last semester and can still do so now if they haven’t yet.
- Some schools will begin sending award notification letters as early as November 2017. The earlier prospective students can submit the FAFSA, the sooner they’ll learn the amount of their financial aid award. Schools won’t send notification letters until a student has been accepted, but applicants don’t have to wait to be accepted before submitting their FAFSA.
Applicants can list up to 10 schools on their FAFSA, but they’re not tied to that original list, explains Owens. “They can update it, so as they make their assessment later on in the year, they can remove one school and add another.”
The FAFSA for the 2018/2019 academic year is based on 2016 tax information, even if you don’t submit the FAFSA until after your 2017 taxes have been filed. Returning college and university students will need to fill out the FAFSA for each year that they are enrolled, but the hard work is out of the way after year one.
“It’s much simpler in year two,” says Erslan. “You basically fill out the renewal FAFSA and update your income. Your basic information stays the same. You’re just updating your financial information on a year-to-year basis.”
IRS Data Retrieval Tool
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool makes the FAFSA much easier and creates less room for error by pulling data directly from the IRS. However, it was taken offline earlier this year due to security concerns and isn’t available for the 2017/2018 form.
The tool will be available again with the 2018/2019 FAFSA when it opens on Oct. 1, this time with additional security measures designed to protect students’ data.
DACA and Children of Non-U.S. Citizens
Despite questions about the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the panelists recommend that students affected by that policy still fill out the FAFSA for the upcoming year.
DACA students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid, but the FAFSA is still used to determine state or school-specific financial aid that they may be qualified for.
Students who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are not should also complete the FAFSA. The application provides instructions for students in that situation, and they may also get in touch with school financial aid offices to answer any questions.
Graduate and Non-Traditional Students
- Adult students should fill out the FAFSA for every year they plan to attend college. There’s no age limit.
- KHEAA offers some programs specific to adult learners, including the Go Higher grant for adults attending college part time in pursuit of their first undergraduate degree. The Work Ready Scholarship is specific to students of any age pursuing certificates or diplomas in high-need industries in the state of Kentucky. Both programs require applicants to compete the FAFSA to be considered.
- Graduate students should speak directly with their university to find out about assistantships, scholarships, or other financial aid programs. They can also fill out the FAFSA to determine if they’re eligible for loans.
Expected Family Contribution
The expected family contribution is intended to be “a holistic picture of what the family can contribute” to a student’s education costs, says Ware. It’s determined through a formula that takes several things into account: household income; how close the parents are to retirement; how many students in the household are enrolled in college; etc.
Even families with a high household income should submit a FAFSA. The student may still qualify for certain loans, and it’s smart to start the process in case the family’s financial situation changes unexpectedly.
The FAFSA for 2018/2019 must be completed using 2016 financial information. However, if things have changed drastically since 2016, fill out the FAFSA and then contact each school’s financial aid department directly and explain the current situation. Financial aid administrators have the authority of Professional Judgment to adjust certain elements of the application when provided with documentation of exceptional circumstances.
The FAFSA currently includes 13 questions that will help determine if a student is considered dependent or independent for the purposes of financial aid, which can be helpful for students who live on their own or with a legal guardian who is not their parent.
The Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) is a merit-based award that Kentucky students can receive to help offset tuition and other eligible college expenses. Students must achieve a minimum 2.5 GPA to renew the scholarship each year, and the dollar amount of the scholarship increases with higher GPAs.
KEES money can only be used for undergraduate programs and only during the fall and spring semesters.
In rare circumstances, KEES money can be used in certain out-of-state colleges or universities if they offer a program that isn’t available at a Kentucky institution, and if they participate in the Academic Common Market of the Southern Regional Education Board.
Additional Financial Aid Programs
- A Parent PLUS Loan is a loan that is given to parents to help cover educational expenses for a student, essentially allowing parents to borrow on behalf of the student. Applicants must fill out the FAFSA, and these loans do require a credit check. Parent PLUS Loans have a 7 percent interest rate compared with 4.45 percent for other student loans.
- Kentucky students can apply for state grants through KHEAA.com. The College Access Program (CAP) Grant is a need-based scholarship. The Kentucky Tuition Grant is for students attending private colleges and universities in the state.
- Kentucky’s Dual Credit Scholarship Program for high school juniors and seniors covers the costs of two approved courses for which students receive both high school and post-secondary school credits.