The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA for short, is your first stop on the road to free aid for college. The application opens October 1 of a student’s senior year (non-traditional students can fill it out on a rolling basis).

Why is filling out the FAFSA so hard?

The FAFSA is an application that’s become substantially easier over the years, but still causes a lot of anxiety for families. It feels a lot like a tax form with even more on the line: your child’s future. And the stakes can be high. Most families find themselves with a gap in funding as they look at their first college bill, and therefore need extra cash flow as the enrollment draws closer.

Is this because families aren’t saving for college?

Not particularly. A recent study from Fidelity shows a family’s average savings at the following levels:

  • Parents with kids ages 0-to-5: $20,700
  • Parents with kids ages 6-to-13: $39,300
  • Parents with kids ages 14-to-18: $52,300

$52,300 is nothing to sneeze at. The problem? This will just about pay for HOUSING at college if your student is living on-campus for four years, leaving little for anything else.

Do I make too much money for the FAFSA?

It’s a common misconception that a family makes too much many to receive financial aid from the FAFSA. In fact, some of the FAFSA’s aid is need-blind, in particular, a unsubsidized student loan (typically around $5,500-$7,500 depending on the undergraduate student’s year in college). A family might also qualify for a Parent PLUS loan to fund the gap between their total financial aid + yearly contribution estimate and the full cost of attendance. Granted, “financial aid” in this context are loans that need to be paid back, but at least the student loan is a competitive interest rate considering most college students don’t have credit or collateral and the government doesn’t require a cosigner. Loan forgiveness might also apply to a student in specific fields of study. M

What are you trying to say?

Fill out the FAFSA every year, regardless of your income.

A friend told me about grants that don’t have to be paid back. What about free aid?

Many families will not receive “free” aid that does not need to be paid back. The quintessential example is the Pell Grant. In general this type of aid doesn’t go to families with household incomes over $50,000, although this is a general rule of thumb (the underlying calculations are rather complex). That said, an estimated $2.3 billion in free aid goes unclaimed simply because families don’t fill out the form.

How can we make this all work?

Most families I work with have to take a multifaceted approach to affording college. This includes savings, loans, scholarships and grants, cutting costs, and reassessing the “traditional” 4 year, living-on-campus approach as it becomes increasingly affordable for most families. I’ve found if a family is committed to educating their children, there is always a reasonable path to get there.

For an free consultation regarding your family’s financial plans for college, or to estimate your family’s potential financial aid, feel free to reach out at

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