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File your FAFSA without fear: 6 things to know about federal student aid

Fall is here, and you know what that means—pumpkin spice everything, apple picking, corn mazes, cozy sweaters…and getting an FSA ID to file your FAFSA and figure out your COA and EFC.

What?! you say.

Don’t worry, we’ll explain all these financial aid acronyms. Grab your fleece blanket and a hot cider, and soon you’ll be talking about your EFC just as easily as you order a PSL from your barista.

First, let’s look at some basics, and then we’ll look at how to apply for financial aid.

Financial aid is money that helps you pay for college.

Your college expenses include not just tuition, but also books, supplies, course and activities fees, housing, food and personal expenses. To cover these costs, most students need financial aid, and more than 98% of IU’s traditional undergraduate students receive some form of aid. These funds may come from different sources and may include grants, scholarships, loans or self-help programs such as federal work-study.

Financial aid comes in two main types:

  1. Non-need-based aid is offered regardless of your family’s financial situation. It is usually awarded based on your performance in high school. Immaculata also offers non-need-based grants for Catholic school graduates, children of IU alumni or siblings of current IU students.
  2. Need-based aid is available to families who meet certain financial criteria showing that they need assistance to pay for their child’s education.

To qualify for need-based aid, you have to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA, and provide information about your family’s financial situation. It costs nothing, and you never know what aid you might be eligible for, so it’s well worth it to apply.

6 things to know about the FAFSA

  1. File your FAFSA as soon as you can, beginning October 1 the year before you start college.

Filling out the FAFSA is one of the most important steps you and your family can take to pay for college. If you are a Pennsylvania resident, it is important that you complete your FAFSA before May 1 to be considered for the PA State Grant.

  1. The FAFSA calculates your cost of attendance (COA) for each school you’re interested in.

This amount, which varies from college to college, includes direct costs (tuition, fees, room and board) and indirect costs (books, supplies, travel costs and personal expenses). Your cost of attendance is the maximum amount you can borrow, and finding ways to borrow less is always better.

  1. The FAFSA asks for financial information to estimate your expected family contribution (EFC).

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula. Your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year are also considered in the formula.

  1. COA – EFC = your financial need.

Your cost of attendance for a college minus your family’s expected contribution equals your financial need. The government may offer you various kinds of aid based on your need, and individual colleges use this number to build your financial aid package.

  1. After you complete the FAFSA, you’ll find out what types of financial aid you are eligible for.

You may be offered need-based scholarships and/or grants, which are gifts that you don’t need to repay. If your EFC is relatively low, you may qualify for a federal Pell grant. You may also qualify for a PA state grant, if you live in and are attending college in Pennsylvania. The FAFSA automatically checks your eligibility for these grants.

You may also be offered student loans, which you must repay later. Federal student loans don’t require a credit check and have lower interest rates, so they’re a much better choice than private loans.

You may qualify for federal work-study, a program that offers you federal funds for part-time campus jobs that help you earn a certain amount of money for your education. At Immaculata, you can apply for a variety of work-study jobs—lab assistant, tutor, special events and clerical support, and even performing as Mac, our Scottie dog mascot.

  1. Good news—completing the FAFSA is simpler than you think!

The form gives tips to help you answer the questions, and you can call 1‑800-4FED‑AID for free assistance.

Most people need only about half an hour to complete the FAFSA. So let’s gather the information you need and get started!

FAFSA checklist

If this is your first time applying for federal student aid (FSA), you and one of your parents will each need to create an account and get separate FSA IDs. You will use your FSA ID to sign important legal documents electronically, so keep it safe and never share your login information with anyone, even someone who is helping you fill out your FSA forms.

Here are the other things you need:

  • Your Social Security number or alien registration number
  • If you plan to start college in fall 2023, you’ll need your 2021 federal income tax returns (both yours and your parents’) and other records of money earned. You may be able to use the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool to transfer your tax data right into your FAFSA form—it’s faster and helps you avoid mistakes.
  • The names or FAFSA codes of each college you’re interested in. IU’s is 003276.
  • Records of any nontaxable income (welfare benefits, Social Security income, veteran’s benefits, child support, etc.)
  • Current bank account statements, including brokerage records of investments
  • Records of any unusual family financial circumstances

Next steps

After you submit your FAFSA, your financial information will go to each school you listed, and you’ll start receiving financial aid packages. Compare the net costs for each institution and look at the bottom line carefully—a big award from a college won’t help you much if its tuition is high.

Immaculata’s financial aid staff are here to offer free help, whether working with you one-on-one or in a group FAFSA workshop. Contact them at 484-323-3028 or finaid@immaculata.edu.

Start your FAFSA today, and find out what financial aid you can receive!

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