(DISCLAIMER: I am N O T by any means or definition a financial advisor of any kind, this is just my experience with the application in general. I do give out some common info but I’ve attached a few helpful links at the end for you to read about the FAFSA, please check the links out! If you gotta skip my story in order to do so, hey I can’t stop you.)
So, you’re a broke soon-to-be-college student and you found yourself here at 2AM, huh?
Don’t blame you. (Unless- you’re a freak of nature and have actually found yourself here months before October 1st of your senior year of high school… then I commend you wtf keep it up
p l e a s e)
Although it seems like eons ago and it feels like I lost 10+ years of my life from stress and a self-inflicted case of extreme sleep deprivation, I made it out of high school just 3 short months ago. For many, graduating high school is a foreseeable milestone, and an accomplishment that is to-be-expected. However, for some of us, graduating high school or even just the prospect of it may feel like a faraway dream; it definitely did for me. For me, graduating high school meant so much more than “15 seconds of fame” across a stage and a rolled-up piece of paper saying that I made it. It was the first time that someone in my family was given the opportunity to break a generational cycle. Although I am beyond extremely proud of the housekeepers, landscapers, and essential workers in my family tree, I was given the opportunity to do more. So if navigating high school was a mountain, it’s a safe bet to assume that going to university was and is going to be my Everest (... maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture). Okay, but wait, you came here for a FAFSA horror story, not my life story - I’ll get to it promise.
There’s a lot that plays into one’s decision about whether or not they want to further their education after high school, and although the reasons vary widely across the board, the if, the where and the when usually come down to one decisive factor: money. That’s where my chaos comes in.
Senior year is already chaotic enough as it is, you’re in the last stretch and you’ve got a calendar with T-180 days… and suddenly you realize that if you or your parent’s haven’t built up an $80,000 savings account by now just for funsies - it feels like you’re absolutely screwed. At this point, teachers are throwing out college advice left and right and you begin learning all these financial terms whose definition’s give migraines out like free candy on Halloween and you don’t know what to do or where to start. Don’t fret I got you.
I have to admit, my government teacher was pretty awesome. She began blaring to us about filling out the FAFSA since about the first day of senior year - ahhhhh, if only I’d listened. FAFSA stands for, “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (APPLICATIONS OPEN UP EVERY YEAR ON OCTOBER 1ST). The FAFSA is a form that you should fill out (ON OCTOBER 1ST) with your parents if you know you will be needing to receive any kind of financial aid in order to pay for college. It requires information about your family’s finances, including tax returns from 2 years prior to your starting year of college and all that fun stuff. (Also for reference, I was starting college in the fall of 2020, so I needed my parent’s 2018 tax return info.)
Alsoooo, regardless of your family’s financial situation, fill fill fill out the FAFSA - whether or not you receive government aid, having this information helps the schools you want to attend and other big outside scholarships figure out how they can help you and what financial aid they can provide. So if applying to college even crosses your mind, you should fill out the FAFSA, on October 1st of course. (By the way, as I might’ve mentioned by now, the application opens on October 1st every year, and it’s important to POUNCE on the application as soon as it opens because governmental funds are not endless so it is more often than not on a first-come-first-come basis. So be sure your parents collect their tax returns B E F O R E October 1st, so you will be ready, as I was not :) )
Okay so here’s the thing, you will already most likely be feeling overwhelmed with classes and homework and tests and college applications, and your personal life on top of it all. That was me too. But my mistake was “waiting to find a good time” to chill out and actually figure out my life. I kept telling myself that I would get around to it but ohhhhh man no you don’t play with your future like that. October 1st (BOOKMARK THIS DAY RIGHT N O W - I’ll give you a sec .…………………………………………………………………………………....) of my senior year rolled around and that’s when the FAFSA application opened up. At this point, my head was buzzing with the stress of applying to college and also that one problem on the calculus test that I totally just blew. Aaaaand that’s how the year kept progressing: it was eat, slee- (ohh wait no not that one), stress, homework, stress, school, test, eat (sometimes), and so on. My teacher didn’t absolutely incessantly keep reminding us about filling out the FAFSA, but after October 1st, every other week or so that she would remind us, I would feel a sick hollow pang in the pit of my stomach and a quick chill slide down my spine, like whoops still have to do that…
And then just like that it was December. At thiiis point, I could no longer take the random pangs of guilt that hit straight out of the middle of nowhere while I would unsuccessfully try to sleep at 4 in the morning (yes I know I’m a hot mess, how could you tell?) One fine evening of winter break I fiiiiiiiiiiiiinally sat down with my mom and opened up the FAFSA application (I know man sorry for the second-hand stress as you read this) but then… as my mom was looking through her files… somehow, out of all the years, we could not for the life of my find the copy of my family’s 2018 tax returns… ohhh f***. At thiiiiis point, I felt absolutely, awfully guilty. It’s always been in the back of my mind that I would HAVE to be the one that would fully finance my college career, but it was always so far away. Now I sat there in the middle of December with a sick panic that I had let my family down much more than they could ever afford. Although I am still not 100% sure when the FAFSA app closes (it can vary for different things), the priority deadline, for my college at least, was January 15th (and as I mentioned earlier, it’s first-come-first-serve soooooo yeahhhhhh yiiiiiikes.)
But wait wait, no I’m not gonna just leave you hangin’ like that, this story has an end (and a moral.) I didn’t write this to make you feel sorry for me or for my mistake, it is merely a precautionary tale, and I swear I only made it out alive by my god’s good grace, but BRO DON’T PLAY WITH YOUR FUTURE LIKE I DID PLEEEEASE. We retrieved a copy of my parent’s 2018 tax returns ASAP and dude, it was still a pain to fill out my FAFSA because do to the fact that we did not have the original copy, the copy we had was waaaaaay more extensive and had much more info that a) we actually needed to fill out the application and b) I could not for the life of me understand half of what the terms on that document meant. But the point is, I DID IT AND WHY THE HECK DID I HAVE TO WAIT TILL DECEMBER hOLY F*** I PLAYED MYSELF AND I FELT SO RELIEVED WHEN I HIT SUBMIT LIKE WHY COULDN’T I HAVE DONE THIS EARLIER, LIKE YOU FRICKEN’ KNEEEEEW, YOU KNEW THAT SOMETHING LIKE THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS TO YOU, SOMETHING WILL ALWAYS GO WRONG SO WHY HAVE YOU NOT LEARNED YOUR LESSON AGHHHHHH. Sorry. That was just a note for myself. But aNy wAYs, yeah man, please retrieve your parents Tax info prior to October and fill out the FAFSA on October 1st :)
In all seriousness, I learned a heavy lesson. I look back now and I shudder at the fact that I could have missed out on the opportunity to receive financial aid, not only from the government but also from my school and from other outside scholarships, and how my mistake could have had heavy repercussions not just for me, but more importantly, for my family. And note this too please please please: your parent’s citizenship/immigration status or financial status does NOT affect your own eligibility to apply for the FAFSA. As it is now, the student has to be a citizen of the USA to receive federal financial aid, but your parent’s status is not a determinant (ask a trusted teacher or educational advisor what to input if a parent’s social security number is not available.) And if you happen to be an undocumented student, I don’t have all the information, but I’ve attached a link below that can hopefully lead you in the right direction :)) Anyhow, thank you for coming to my TEDTalk, and if you take anything away: if you are even considering applying to college, fill out the FAFSA and gather your materials prior to October 1st. I’ve stressed enough for the both of us so just go right ahead, skip the stress and get on that like right now instead, you got this. Thank you :))
1) Fill out the FAFSA whether you think you qualify or not (universities and many other outside scholarships use this info as well so it’s good to have it filled out)
2) You will need your parent’s tax returns from 2 years before the year you will be entering college (I entered fall of 2020, so I needed returns from 2018) - ACQUIRE THESE PRIOR TO OCTOBER 1ST OF YOUR SENIOR YEAR.
3) The FAFSA opens up on OCTOBER 1ST every year; apply on October 1st of your senior year or as close to this date as possible because government funds are NOT endless, and more often than not, the aid is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
4) The student must be a citizen of the USA to receive federal aid, but your parent’s citizenship/immigration status does NOT affect the student’s eligibility! (If your parents do not have a social security number on hand, ask a trusted educator what to use in its place - ask this question PRIOR TO OCTOBER 1ST!)
5)You got this. You can do this.
What is the FAFSA? - College Board Blog
Advising Undocumented Students – Explaining Financial Aid | Education Professionals – The College Board