Whether your child attends community college of a private four-year university, higher education is an expensive investment in their future. It takes creativity and resources to fund that type of experience.
For a lot of families, there are many difficult conversations and decisions around who will pay for college. The conclusion, oftentimes, is that the student will have to pay for college
on their own. It could be a matter of conviction for the parents or out of financial necessity.
Whatever the case, parents who are not able to pay for college
should still do one thing: help their child fill out the FAFSA
What is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid
, more commonly referred to as the FASFA, is a form that is used to determine how much a family can pay for college. Filling out and submitting this form in no way obligates parents to pay for college.
Federal and state governments as well as colleges and universities use the information on the FAFSA to determine how much a family can pay for college. This is known as the Expected Family Contribution
– or EFC. Again, filling out the FAFSA and getting an EFC does not lock parents into paying for college.
The EFC is utilized by schools to determine a financial aid package
. This package may include grants, work study opportunities, and federal student loans.
FAFSA Opens Doors to All Types of Financial Aid for Students
Because the FAFSA does not require parents to pay for school, there is no harm in filling this form out for your child, even when you don’t plan to pay anything toward their higher education. It does, however, harm them to not complete the FAFSA
When you do not complete the FAFSA, colleges cannot determine whether or not your child is eligible for financial aid
. If there is no form on file, there are no grants or work- study jobs on campus for them because a student cannot file a FAFSA without parents.
If you or your child attempts to contact the financial aid office to get financial aid, they will first ask if you have filed a FAFSA. And if you haven’t, they will instruct you to do so.
There are also scholarships
that require students to show proof of financial need, and how do they do that? By completing the FAFSA.
Why Parents Should Fill Out the FAFSA
It is understandable for parents to not want to pay for college – or to be unable to pay for college for their children. However, they should work to help their child pay for college
as feasibly as possible. One way to do this, even if you cannot afford to do so, is by helping to complete the FAFSA. This gives the child the greatest advantages when in paying for their college education themselves.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are parents who don’t fill out the FAFSA
because they believe they won’t qualify for financial aid based on their financial circumstances. While that may be true, there is no way of ever knowing. Plus, millions of dollars in financial aid go unclaimed each year!
Sometimes, students may not qualify for financial aid one year, but then qualify for another. This is especially possible when there are multiple family members enrolled at the same time. Sometimes, families meet difficult financial circumstances throughout the school year, like job loss, exorbitant medical expenses, or even death
Those life events may affect a family’s ability to pay, and when that happens, having a FAFSA on file is helpful so that the school’s financial aid office can act quickly to assist the student, and help to keep them in college. For example, a struggling college student cannot get help from the latest American Rescue Plan without having a FAFSA on file.
FAFSA for Parents: Filing Tips
The FAFSA gets a lot of flack, but it’s never been easier for parents to file. To prepare your family for the FAFSA application, follow these steps:
- Have conversations about the cost of college and who is paying before you submit the form.
- Determine whether your child is dependent or independent on the FAFSA (if they qualify as an independent student, they may be eligible for more financial aid).
- Research which who should fill out the FAFSA if divorced parents, separated or unmarried.
- Gather everything you need to file the form. Pro tip: use our FAFSA checklist.
- File the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 since many states and federal government award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Double check your FAFSA for errors before submitting.
If you have FAFSA questions, do not hesitate to reach out to Student Aid
, your high school guidance counselor, or your child’s college. These professionals are here to assist students and their parents with the FAFSA, so please utilize them. Your child’s financial aid chances may depend on it.