There’s a new date to remember this year for students attending college in 2017-18. For the first time, students seeking financial aid for higher education can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning on October 1.
Students who seek aid for 2017-18 will use tax information from the 2015 tax year. Financial aid advisers urge students to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible to be eligible for need-based aid that is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. In previous years, the FAFSA opened up on Jan. 1 and required the prior year’s tax information.
In a special edition of KET’s Education Matters, a panel of financial aid experts from Kentucky colleges and the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority offered advice and fielded questions from viewers about the process.
Cassandra Clark, senior outreach counselor with the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, addressed the new filing circumstances: “A good thing to keep in mind, if your 2015 tax returns look very different than what your financial situation looks like right now, or will look like in the ‘17-18 school year, [then] it really is best to just contact your financial aid office at your college or university and talk to them about that situation,” Clark said. “Because we feel like, filing on two-year-old information, we’re probably going to get a lot of these instances where something in the household has changed.”
Get Started Now!
Sandy Neel, executive director of financial aid at the University of Louisville, said because the FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year will be available on Oct. 1, 2016, families can start preparing now. The first step is to apply for an identification number for the FAFSA, the Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). By getting the FSA ID as soon as possible, “they can file their FAFSA on Oct. 1 or pretty close thereafter,” she said. The application for the ID is at www.fsaid.ed.gov.
Neel said the FAFSA also requires parent and student to have two different email addresses, and the student should not use a high school email address.
Neel said most students age 24 and younger usually have to provide their parents’ financial information on the FAFSA. “Even if you’re living on your own you still have to provide the parent data,” she said.
Bob Fultz, director of student financial planning at Georgetown College, said financial aid offices can help students determine if they are considered financially independent or not.
Most people can use IRS Data Retrieval Tool (which links to tax returns) and automatically fill in lines on the FAFSA.
The FAFSA must be filled out each year a student wants aid. “If you’re a continuing student, you want to make sure your grades are good,” said Michael Birchett, director of financial aid at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Keeping financial aid often means maintaining a certain grade point average.
The state of Kentucky offers KEES money (the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship) to students who earn at least a 2.5 GPA each year they attend a certified Kentucky high school.
KEES money is designed to be used in the fall and spring semesters, said Clark. To remain eligible for KEES, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA in college, Fultz said. If students go below that, they must wait another year before eligibility can be considered.
KEES money cannot be used for graduate school, however. Neel said graduate students are eligible only for unsubsidized student loans, which accrue interest. She encourages graduate students to go to their school and seek out fellowships and teaching assistantships. Graduate students in education can apply for the federal TEACH grant and the Kentucky Teacher Scholarships, Fultz said.
Here are some common questions about financial aid.
–How much can students borrow?
The limits are based on several factors, said Birchett, such as whether the student is a dependent. When you complete your FAFSA, the schools you apply to will be able to determine what aid you are eligible for including loans. Fultz advises students to borrow conservatively. “You may qualify for the maximum, but do you necessarily need that maximum?” said Fultz.
Neel cautioned that loans are strictly for educational expenses. Spending loan money on clothing means that when the student pays back the loan with interest, the clothes end up costing cost much more than the original price. “Live like a student now, so you won’t have to when you graduate,” she said.
–Should you wait until you’re admitted to college to fill out the FAFSA?
No. Students need to list the federal school codes of the schools they are interested in on the FAFSA, Fultz said. Up to 10 schools can be listed, in any order, whether you have applied to the school or not.
Neel advises students to add one state school and a community college so they can be eligible for state financial aid, just in case plans to attend out of state fail.
–What about unsolicited calls offering financial aid?
“Be a consumer savvy person and watch out for those things, because there are some organizations out there that like to take advantage of people,” said Neel.
Clark notes that FAFSA is a free service, so people should be wary of any website that asks for credit card information or billing information in exchange for student aid or scholarship searches. The official website, www.fafsa.ed.gov, is free.
–Is the FAFSA [and potential aid] available for students who are citizens but their parents are not citizens?
Yes. The difference, in this case, is that the parent also needs an FSA ID to electronically sign the FAFSA and the parent needs a Social Security number to obtain an FSA ID. Clark said she would recommend the student print out the signature page and have the parent sign it manually.
–What loan forgiveness programs are available?
Contact your loan servicer, which is the company that handles billing for your loan. In addition, those who work in public service professions like medicine or social work may be eligible for loan forgiveness after a certain number of years worked.
–What state grants are available?
Go to the KHEAA website, https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/home , for information. For students deemed eligible because of financial need, the state offers College Access Program (CAP) grants, for in-state public colleges, and Kentucky Tuition Grants, for in-state private colleges.
–What is the dual credit scholarship program?
High school students who take dual credit classes at Kentucky colleges earn credit for college with those classes. Students can take two classes per year, and the $52 per credit hour cost is paid with the scholarship money. A maximum of 9 credit hours can be earned this way.
Advice from Students
In a panel discussion with KET’s Bill Goodman, Kentucky high school students shared their thoughts on the financial aid process.
Iishe Davis, a senior at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, encourages students to look for scholarships, noting that there are scholarships specifically for minorities and first generation college students. “They’re more under the radar,” she said.
Sam Swayze, a senior at Lafayette High School in Lexington, said putting effort into studying for the ACT and planning what to study are important as well. “I think the more overwhelming question perhaps is what do you do after college?” he said. “I think getting there is a lot easier once you know what you want to do.”
Pearl Morttey, a senior at Fern Creek High School, spent five weeks at Murray State University through the Governor’s Scholar Program. Many colleges offer scholarship money to students who’ve been Governor’s Scholars, and she encourages students to look at programs that help them connect with scholarship money.
Madison Ortega, a freshman at Rowan County High School who is looking into the Upward Bound program, said students should not be embarrassed to apply for financial aid. “Take advantage of those opportunities when they come to you,” she said.