Demystifying FAFSA: Your Guide to Federal Student Aid

‘Tis the season of college applications and deadlines, when every senior is constantly expatiating about everything from college essays to recommendations. However, past the simplistic aspects of admissions lies a more elaborate web of scholarships and grants and the elusive FAFSA. You might be wondering, what is FAFSA?

It’s an acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It all started in 1953 when a man from Harvard University, John Monro, created the first financial aid need analysis formula. A year later the College Board created the College Scholarship Service to make financial aid application forms. Flash forward to 1992, the Higher Education Amendments created the Free Application for Federal Students, thus the birth of FAFSA. It is a collaborative effort between the Federal Government and independent colleges to figure out your chances for financial aid. Through a numeric algorithm, FAFSA helps to determine money allotted to U.S. citizens for higher education in the form of grants, work-study, student loans, and scholarships. Seniors attending school in the fall file their FAFSA in February or March, but filing deadlines vary by school. You can fill out your FAFSA online at and complete the necessary steps in less than an hour. If you’re a dependent student (meaning you rely on your parents for financial stability) you’ll need both you and your parents’ tax and W-2 forms from the previous year. In the scenario that you’re independent (you provide for yourself financially) you are only obligated to provide your own. When dealing with bank and investment statements,  even more identification and legal documents have to be provided– these include your social security card, driver’s license, or proof of permanent residency.

If you’re considering attending college out of the country, FAFSA can still play a role in paying for your degree. Many notable higher institutions of learning in Europe also accept Federal Student Aid. To the surprise of many, attending a university overseas will not prevent you from receiving government student aid.

Does this whole process sound intimidating? It shouldn’t. With the cost of a college degree increasing at an incredibly rapid pace, it’s crucial to explore and consider all options to increase the affordability of college. Although many choose to further their education within the state of New Jersey, the majority of Ridgewood High will pursue higher education at an out-of-state institution. With this exciting period of transition comes a price tag, which often tends to be more than manageable for an average family. The complexity of the financial aid process remains to be a hurdle that many find overtly intimidating, if not entirely inaccessible. Money often stands in the way between people and what they truly aspire to do. In order to make the most of your education and maximize your strengths, apply to schools that excite you, rather than balking at a high cost of tuition. Even if these universities surpass your budget, filing for FAFSA can make a world of difference in allowing you to get one step closer to achieving your dreams.

Elizabeth Culha
staff writer

Graphics: Maraea Garcia

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