The relationship between students and financial aid is always complicated.
Financial aid can be the game-changer that puts a college degree within your reach. But, questions and misconceptions can prevent you from understanding financial aid in its entirety.
It’s a push and pull. It’s important for you to understand the intricacies of financial aid, but it's a challenging topic.
The blog team sat down with financial aid to get answers to common questions. We learned about lesser-known financial aid issues that every student should know about.
Most Common Question
What does it take to qualify for Financial Aid?
We’re lucky in that a good chunk of our students do qualify for Pell Grants. With the Pell Grant, federal grant, and state grant, it’s enough to cover a lot of your tuition, fees, and books, so that is definitely a benefit.
The FAFSA is the first step to getting federal financial support for college. It has a reputation for being confusing and hard to complete but in reality, most students complete it in 30-45 minutes.
To get started you should have access to your most recent tax information (more on this later) and a secure, reliable internet connection.
Tell me more about the tax information that I’ll need to complete my FAFSA?
There are basic facts and figures about your earnings that you need to transfer over to your FAFSA. You can do this in two ways: use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool or obtain a tax return transcript from the IRS and type in the information manually.
What if I haven’t done my taxes yet?
It’s always better to use estimated tax information and get the FAFSA done early. Later on, you can return to your FAFSA and update it after you do your taxes.
What is the Data Retrieval Tool? How do I use it and how does it work?
It allows you to access the IRS tax return information needed to complete your FAFSA, and transfer the data directly into the FAFSA from the IRS website.
For most students, the Data Retrieval Tool is a fairly straightforward way to pull your tax information from the IRS and just dump it right into your FAFSA.
There are two things that can go wrong when using the Data Retrieval Tool.
You have to be able to type in your address exactly as it was on the tax return. So if you spelled out “Road” on your taxes, you’ll have an issue if you use the abbreviation “Rd.” during authentication. If you moved recently, enter the address that you would've put on your taxes, even if you have a new permanent address.
The name on your taxes needs to be consistent, too. So if you got married, separated, divorced, or had a change in your head of household—any of those things—be aware. The Data Retrieval Tool needs you to provide an exact match.
There is good news. The IRS has upgraded their online support so students can visit their website and actually print out their tax return transcript. The transcript will be a full view of everything that you put on your taxes, so you won’t have any guess work. You used to have to call or go down to the IRS to request this information. Then, it could take 2-3 weeks for the IRS to mail it to you. Now if they go to irs.gov
, you can get your tax return transcript right away.
But a heads up... You need to authenticate yourself on this website, too. If you had authentication issues with the Data Retrieval Tool, make sure you have these straightened out. Even so, getting the tax return transcript is now a really good option to be aware of.
The other common issue with the Data Retrieval Tool is that people will complete the entire process, but forget to hit submit. If you miss this step, your tax information never populates the FAFSA.
How long does it take to process my FAFSA?
During our normal awarding cycle, it takes about 2-3 weeks for the Federal Government to process your FAFSA and send it over to GSC’s Financial Aid office. Within 24 hours of us pulling in that information, you’ll have your financial aid award. We pull in the FAFSAs every day, and we award every day.
The timeline is slightly different when we’re approaching a new awarding cycle. Basically, financial aid follows a fiscal year starting on July 1st. Let's say you apply for financial aid in February, but you won’t be taking classes until the Fall term in September. Our office can't process the financial aid award until we’re a little bit closer to the new awarding cycle. We wait until the Spring term to switch everything over to the new financial aid year and the new awarding cycle. By the time registration opens for Summer classes (the first term in the new financial aid year), you’ll have your financial aid award.
Academic performance has an important impact on financial aid eligibility. I don’t think that students always get the connectedness between the two.
What are the scenarios where my academics can affect my financial aid?
If you drop a course, but never actually make it official (e.g. an administrative failure
), you may lose some of your financial aid and owe the college the difference. The other scenario is satisfactory academic progress
. To continue to get financial aid, students need to balance a certain GPA and complete a percentage of attempted credits.
Some of these examples seem severe. As long as you take your courses seriously and do your best, your financial aid will be fine.
The best thing students can do for their financial aid
Don’t take out more loans than what you need
Just because you’re eligible for a certain amount of money doesn’t mean you should take it. Pay very close attention to what you take out in loans—the huge refund checks aren’t necessarily worth it.
If you constantly use the maximum in loans, you can potentially run out of financial aid money and not have enough to reach the finish line.
Sometimes, students never get this message so when the funds are dry, they’re taken by surprise.
Changing your plans? Call us, we’ll help!
If there are any changes to your academic plan, like taking a semester or two off, communicate to us early and often. This will help maximize your financial aid dollars.
This is just a sampling of common questions and answers.
If you want to discuss personal financial aid information, call our team at 888-228-3000 ext 392 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.