So, you’ve completed the 2017–18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. It’s time to sit back and wait for your financial aid offers, right? Not quite. In fact, there’s still plenty to do! Here are 8 things you need to do AFTER you submit your application.
1. Find your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. If your application is complete, your EFC will display in the upper right-hand corner of your Student Aid Report (SAR). If your application is incomplete, your SAR will not include an EFC, but it will tell you what you need to do to resolve any issues.
To understand how the EFC is used, review the following formula, which is what schools use to determine your federal student aid eligibility and your financial aid offer:
Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial need
Schools then do their best to meet your financial need (not your full cost of attendance), but some schools are able to cover more than others.
Be sure to follow up with the financial aid offices at the schools you applied to. Sometimes schools need additional paperwork or have other internal deadlines. By not following up, you could be leaving money on the table!3. Make corrections or updates if you need to
It’s important to make sure that all of your FAFSA data is correct and complete. Most information can’t be updated because it must reflect your situation as of the day you originally signed your application, but there are certain items that must be updated if they change.
Many people make a correction to their FAFSA form because they want to add or remove a school. If you found another school that you’d like to make your FAFSA information available to, log in to fafsa.gov and add that school to your list. Remember, you can list 10 schools at a time. If you’re applying to more than 10 schools, follow these instructions.
Find out how to make changes to your FAFSA information.4. Keep prospective schools aware of any major changes to your family’s financial situation
You’ve already submitted your 2017–18 FAFSA form so you know that you had to report income from 2015. If your family’s situation has changed in a major way since then, you can request a professional judgment review from your school. Contact the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend if your family has any other special circumstances that affect your financial situation.5. Apply for scholarships
Some schools are not able to meet every student’s financial need; therefore, there may be a gap between what the school offers you and what the school costs. Scholarships are a great way to fill this gap because they’re gifts—meaning they don’t need to be repaid!
Find and apply for as many scholarships as you can. You’ll probably have a lot of time between when you submit your FAFSA form and when you start receiving aid offers. Aim to apply for at least one scholarship a week. There are thousands of them, offered by schools, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, and professional and social organizations, so you have no excuse not to apply.6. Compare school aid offers
You can follow these steps to determine which school will be most affordable.
- Find the COA for your program on the aid offer. If a school doesn’t list the COA on the aid offer, contact their financial aid office. Be sure that amount includes direct expenses (tuition and fees) as well as other costs such as living expenses, books and supplies, and transportation.
- Subtract any grant and scholarship amounts from the COA. The number you’re left with is your out-of-pocket, or net, cost.
- Compare the net costs for schools you are considering.
Your aid offer might include student loans, so it’s very important that you compare the amount of debt you’d be taking on at each school. This comparison tool offered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help you compare the aid offers you received.7. Consider what aid to accept
- The rule is: free money first (scholarships and grants), then earned money (work-study), and then borrowed money (federal student loans).
- If you need to borrow money, figure out which loans offer you the best terms. Remember, it’s perfectly okay to accept less loan money than a school offers. Borrow only what you need.
We’ve already touched on applying for scholarships, but there are other options to consider if you didn’t receive enough financial aid. Be sure to contact your school’s financial aid office. They can help you assess your options.
Nick Dvorscak is a Management and Program Analyst for Federal Student Aid.