FAFSA for idiots
April 28, 2005 6:07 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is getting ready to start grad school this summer, and is having a hell of time figuring out what needs to be done for financial aid. Obviously, time is running out.

Her parents are very supportive, and will be covering her living expenses, but she is responsible for tuition and books, which she would like to do through student loans. She has received financial aid for her undergrad degrees, and currently has FAFSA on file for this year. She's trying to figure out what needs to be done so that she can receive loans for this summer, and how she should file for the 2005-2006 school year (and on).

The FA office for her new school has been completely unhelpful. They refuse to meet with her and keep giving her conflicting information over the phone (from the same person).

As I understand it, she gets to (has to?) file as an independent because she will be in grad school and will be 24 in May. She submitted FAFSA for 2005-2006, but was told it was rejected because it didn't contain income for herself (ahe hasn't been working while in college) or her parents (which wasn't included because she's trying to file as an independent).

I'm trying to help her work through this, but having been fortunate enough to not have had to rely on financial aid, I'm at a bit of a loss. Can anybody shed any light?
posted by cosmonaught to Education (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What did she put, if she didn't put info about herself and her parents?

She doesn't have to include her parents because of grad school, but she has to put something, even if it's just zeroes, for herself. They ask for current savings, I think, not just income.

At my school (University of Washington), all you have to do is fill out the FAFSA and indicate which school you're attending; from there, the school and FAFSA talk to each other. If she did the FAFSA online and has a Dept. of Ed. PIN, she might be able to log in and make the changes on the website, fafsa.ed.gov, but then if it was rejected I don't know if they keep it.
But she should HURRY. Last year I spaced it, applied late March or so, and got way less than I needed. (But I was asking for full coverage.)

Also, I don't understand how they can refuse to meet with her - can't she just go in to the office?
posted by librarina at 6:51 PM on April 28, 2005

Response by poster: She'd like to gather her and her parent's financial information, along with all her current and old FAFSA forms, and go into the office to have somebody show her where she's going wrong. She's interning in a city a couple of hours away from her new school, so she'd like to set up an appointment before she takes time off and drives in. But the lady who answers the phone at FA (and it's always the same lady) tells her that nobody will help her until she does x (currently x is completing some sort of income clarification form).

The real problem is that my girlfriend has a strong tendency to get frustrated and throw her hands up when it comes to stuff like this. Having the school's FA office tell her that they won't help her complete the forms until she completes the forms is just about enough to make her give up completely. I'm trying to help her and a little kick in the ass at the same time, but obviously there is something that I don't understand about the process.

For what it's worth, this is how I understand the process:

1) Complete FAFSA to become eligible for federal (and state) aid. The sooner the better because Pell grants and the like are first-come first-serve.

2) File for Stafford loans to pay for school. The amount awarded is need based as a determination of what percentage of your tuition you are can be expected to pay (see step 1).

3) Toil under the yoke of overwhelming debt.

I guess the confusion comes in because she doesn't have any income, because she's not really independent. But she is treated as an independent by FAFSA because she's a grad student and because she'll be over 24. For what's it's worth, the school she'll (hopefully) be attending is a private school.
posted by cosmonaught at 7:37 PM on April 28, 2005

I guess I don't understand why not having income is confusing. You don't have to have income, you just have to tell them whether you do or not. There's a "will not file taxes" option on the FAFSA itself. (I wonder if it would be easier to start all over with a new FAFSA than to jump through the other little hoops to catch up?)

I don't know if it's different at every school, but I've never had to do a separate application; I just do FAFSA and they report all the relevant info to the school, including Pell and Stafford applications.
posted by librarina at 8:16 PM on April 28, 2005

Yes, she's an independent student. So the parental info is irrelevant. It's good that she already has the FAFSA on file, because all she needs to do is submit a correction--preferably online. If her school is hooked into the dept of education's computer system, they'll have the revised SAR in a matter of days.

Was it the dept of ed, or her school, that told her the FAFSA was rejected? If there's an error on the FAFSA, she should have gotten a form letter specifying the info needed + a computer-generated copy of the version she previously submitted. Just fill in the indicated spaces, and done. 15 minutes, tops.

On the other hand if the school's financial aid officer told her the FAFSA is wrong, she needs to speak to a supervisor there who is capable of providing consistent answers and explaing exactly what is needed to finish processing the application. Zero income is zero income, so what the heck is the problem? Though perhaps the school has some requirement for documenting why there was no income.

She needs to treat this as urgent. In my experience, by May it's unlikely she'll be get the full Pell grant amount she was eligible for in January. The school has given out most, possibly even all of its grant and scholarship funds by now. Which means she could be stuck with an aid package that's nothing but loans. Every day lost is costing her real money.

(If the school erred in holding up her application, it's worth it to politely but firmly point out the harm done to her aid eligibility. Though it's not well-known, schools often have reserve aid funds that they can dig into when there's a good enough reason.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:18 PM on April 28, 2005

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