The high cost of earning a degree and the high unemployment rate among recent college graduates has many students and parents wondering if going to college is even worth it. Despite rising tuition and the lackluster job market, most experts recommend going to college anyway.
For starters, Fox Business reports that a 2010 study by Georgetown University found 63% of jobs offered by 2018 will require postsecondary education. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Georgetown researchers also learned that people with a bachelor’s degree earn 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates. Although people with less education in high-paying occupations can out-earn their counterparts with advanced degrees, The Times explains, workers with more schooling usually land better paychecks.
Financial aid, which is money to help students pay for college, is available in many forms. Thousands of different scholarships are offered by private organizations as well as colleges and universities themselves, and both the federal and local governments offer financial aid programs, including loans for students and parents as well as grants.
To determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is free to complete. It is available in both paper form and online at www.FAFSA.ed.gov
Beware of websites with similar names that are not affiliated with nor endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. These sites often charge students to file the forms which they can do for free themselves. As the Department of Education warns, always remember that you shouldn’t have to pay for help filling out your FAFSA.
If you’re ready to start college and apply for financial aid but the FAFSA has you feeling puzzled, you’re not alone. Many high schools, colleges, and community organizations even offer FAFSA help sessions, so you may be able to find in-person advice in your area. According to the Sun Journal, the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME), which administers state and federal college grants and scholarships, will be holding free FAFSA workshops throughout the state at the end of the month.
“These free workshops are designed to help Maine students of all ages access needed financial aid. FAME wants to encourage early applications so Maine families and students can take full advantage of all available resources,” FAME’s chief executive officer Beth Bordowitz explained to the Journal.
If you’re unable to attend a FAFSA workshop in your area and would like advice and assistance regarding the FAFSA, you can contact the financial aid office at your prospective college(s) or contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) by phone at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or TTY 1-800-730-8913.
We’ve also compiled some of the top FAFSA FAQs and provided answers below:
1. What is the FAFSA? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a form that can be prepared by current and prospective college students in the U.S. to determine eligibility for financial aid including the Pell grant, federal student loans, and the Federal Work-Study program. Both undergraduate and graduate students can fill out the FAFSA. Many states, colleges and universities also require the FAFSA to determine eligibility for other types of financial aid, such state-sponsored grants or institutional scholarships.
2. Do I have to file the FAFSA? If you want to be considered for financial aid for college, you must file the FAFSA.
3. I think my parents earn too much money for me to get financial aid. Should I still fill out the FAFSA? Despite family income, many students are eligible for some type of financial aid. Most students qualify for Federal Stafford Loans regardless of income and many students are surprised by how much assistance they qualify for. Filing the FAFSA is free and without it, you’ll never know how much financial aid you could get for college, which is why all current and prospective college students are encouraged to file.
4. When should I file the FAFSA? The current FAFSA is available each year on January 1 and when it comes to filing, take the approach of “the sooner the better.” Although most states and colleges have FAFSA deadlines, it’s best to file the FAFSA as early as possible because aid is limited and awarded on a “first come, first served” basis.
5. What do I need to complete the FAFSA? According to the Department of Education’s website it generally takes 1-2 hours to prepare your FAFSA so you will want to have all necessary documents handy. If you are an independent student, you will need your W-2 forms and other records of money earned in the previous year along with your federal income tax return from the previous year. If you are married, you will need your spouse’s information as well. If you are a dependent student, as many undergraduate students are, you will need your parents’ financial information as well. All necessary documents for filing the FAFSA are explained in-depth by the U.S. Department of Education at What documents do I need to fill out a FAFSA?
6. How do I file the FAFSA? You can submit a FAFSA by filling out and mailing in a paper application. You can also complete and submit the FAFSA electronically at FAFSA on the Web located at www.FAFSA.ed.gov
7. When and how will I know the status of my FAFSA and how much financial aid I can get? Once it has been received by the Department of Education, you should be able to check the status of your FAFSA online or by telephone at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or TTY 1-800-730-8913. You can also contact your prospective college’s financial aid office for assistance. Most colleges begin sending financial aid award letters in the spring to let you know how much financial aid you qualify for.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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