Fall 2012 is right around the corner, and before you know it FAFSA will be the biggest focus of your college preparation process. Well, in that prep I thought I’d provide you with 15 key things you should know when it comes to utilizing financial aid to help pay for college.

1. January 1, 2012 is the first day you can file your 2012-13 FAFSA for the next school year.

2. Financial Assistance for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) calculates your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) towards college costs.

3. The EFC is important because it is what determines financial assistance for you

4. EFC measures your family’s financial strength by applying a federal formula to info supplied on the FAFSA.

5. EFC is not the amount of money you will pay for college or the money you will receive for college. It is just the amount the government says that you can make toward college

6. FAFSA asks about your prior year (2011) taxed and untaxed income, benefits received, and assets as of the date you complete your FAFSA. This is for parents AND kids that work and file taxes from 2011.

7. FAFSA also asks about your family size and the number of family members (not counting parents) attending college in the 2012-13 school year.

8. Multiple family members (not counting your parents) attending college at the same time, significantly lower each student’s EFC.

9. After you submit FAFSA, you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that includes your EFC. Review the info on this form as it states what you are expected to contribute toward college, and what you will get in free aid.

10. If you are already enrolled at a college, they will receive the same information. Call them to make sure they have it. Ask them what your Cost of Attendance (COA) will be.

11. Financial aid includes a numbers of funding sources. Your Pell Grant, which is free (to you) money that you will receive toward college, and then other sources like work-study, consolidated student loans, etc. that give you other options to pay for the rest of college.

12. Colleges may receive their own version of your SAR and calculate your financial need by subtracting your EFC from their college costs.

13. Colleges set their own costs (tuition, fees, room & board), so your need (and financial aid award) will vary depending on the school.

14. Colleges may use FAFSA info to award you grants/scholarships from institutional funds.

15. If the EFC is not correct, you can appeal by contacting the college’s financial aid office and following the appeal procedures.

You can go to college for free. The Career Closet encourages you to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize financial aid awards because some institutional funds go to the early birds, first. If you don’t file your taxes until later, you can use your W-2 information for FAFSA. Then later on make whatever changes necessary. As long as you get your FAFSA filed.

How do you file FAFSA? Most will go to to file create a profile and pin number, then file. It’s a quick and easy process compared to past years. Some states require the filing of a FAFSA first before awarding state aid to their residents.

I know you really have your heart set on a certain college, but one of the best things you can do is determine if the financial aid you will be receiving will help pay for this college. Compare your financial aid award to the school you are attending. If, after looking at other financial aid and scholarships you could receive, and you don’t know if you can pay for college, look around at other schools. When you know which college you are attending, their costs, and your finances, you can accept or reject any offered aid.

Your Success is My Success,

Keith Lipke

I’m a careers and college recruiter, coach, public speaker and leader at The Career Closet. His passion is to educate, inspire, and give hope to young people who need it upon their search for the right career and college

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