FAFSA Season Is Here!

The 2014-2015 FAFSA has been released! As we’ve mentioned before, your mantra should be “the earlier the better” when it comes to financial aid. We’ve prepared this handy blog as a way to make sure you’re set to receive different kinds of financial aid. So, if you plan on making an appointment with us to fill out your FAFSA, let’s kick off with a list of things you should make sure to bring with you when you head our way:

  • Your Dependency Status: Independent students will only need their own income information (and their spouse’s, if they’re married), while Dependent students will need their parents’ as well (see our earlier blog if you aren’t sure).
  • Income Information: Gather income information from the previous year for yourself and parents if required.  Your income tax return, and/or your parents’ if necessary, for this year will work if you’ve already completed it, but if not then be prepared to provide a close estimate of this year’s income (W-2 forms, check stubs or previous year’s tax returns will all help get a good estimate).
  • Value of Assets: Check your bank account balances and the value of any other assets, such as rental property or stocks (remember: Dependent students’ bank accounts should be as low as possible to keep from raising their expected family contribution (efc) number).  Parents: don’t include retirement accounts or the value of your home in your assets.  Educational savings plans are considered a parent asset even though the student is the beneficiary.
  • Student and parent Social Security Numbers and dates of birth:  If parent or parents don’t have a Social Security Number a student can still complete a FAFSA and parent number is reported as 000-00-0000.
  • Parents’ Marital Status: If you or your parents are currently married or divorced, you will need the month and year that occurred.
  • Residency Information: If you are not a citizen, you will need your Alien Registration Number.  If you don’t have one, you will need to complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) instead of the FAFSA for most Texas colleges.
  • PIN Numbers: If you are renewing your FAFSA, you will need the student and parent PIN numbers you used last year.  These can be retrieved online here if you don’t remember what you chose as your PIN number. If this will be a first time FAFSA you can apply for you pin numbers in advance or apply for them during the FAFSA process.
  • Driver’s License (Optional): You can report your driver’s license number if you have one; however, it is not required.

Stay Eligible to Keep Receiving Financial Aid

You need to make satisfactory academic progress in order to continue receiving federal student aid, including Pell Grants and loans. In other words, your grades need to be good enough and you must complete enough classes (credits, hours, etc.) to keep moving toward your degree or certificate in a time period that’s acceptable to your school. You also must renew your FAFSA each year in order to continue receiving grants or loans.

Each school has a satisfactory academic progress policy for financial aid purposes; to see your school’s, you can check your school’s website or ask someone at the financial aid office. McLennan Community College, as well as most colleges, requires you to successfully complete at least 67% of the classes you attempt. Your school’s policy will tell you:

  • what grade-point average (or equivalent standard) you need to maintain;
  • how quickly you need to be moving toward graduation (for instance, how many credits you should have successfully completed by the end of each year);
  • how an incomplete class, withdrawal, repeated class, change of major, or transfer of credits from another school affects your satisfactory academic progress; and
  • whether or not you may appeal your school’s decision that you haven’t made satisfactory academic progress (reasons for appeal usually include the death of a member of your family, your illness or injury, or other special circumstances).

If you are put on financial aid suspension and are denied your appeal, you may be required to pay for classes yourself until your completion rate and GPA reach the requirements. In some cases, you may be required to repay some of your Pell Grant money before receiving additional aid.

As long as you remain eligible, you may receive the federal Pell Grant for 12 semesters or the equivalent (roughly six years).  You’ll receive a notice if you’re getting close to your limit. If you have any questions, contact your college’s financial aid office.

Renew Scholarships Awarded by Your College

Check to find out what GPA you are required to maintain in order to continue receiving it.  Many scholarships have guidelines attached, such as requiring that you stay a full time student. Some scholarships only pay during one year and are not renewable, which may mean you need go through the regular scholarship application process if you wish to receive the scholarship during the following year.

Renew Outside Scholarships

Most outside scholarships you receive will only last for one year, especially if they are local scholarships.  Check with the scholarship provider to see if renewing is an option or if you can reapply for the scholarship each year.

Renew State Grants and Scholarships

The state legislature reviews and often changes State programs every two years.  We have an earlier blog on State programs but to be sure your information is up to date go to College for All Texans and search for your particular state grant.  Most state programs require that you maintain a certain GPA to remain eligible, and many require that you be a full time student. Also be sure to check on various veterans’ benefits if one of your parents is a vet.  Most college financial aid departments have a financial aid professional that works with the veterans’ programs and they can advise you on the paperwork required.

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