All About the FAFSA

So, I am just going to go on and say it…. that-which-must-not-be-named… FAFSA. This word evokes feeling of uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Many ask what is it and why does it have so much control over my future? All that is known for sure is that it must be completed because colleges want it and for those of us in the wonderful state of TN, it is required for TN Promise.

Don’t worry though, I am arming you with the owl patronus. It stands for wisdom, learning, and gives us the vision to see and navigate any path no matter how dark it is.

The truth is that, while many people stress and worry over the FAFSA, it is actually much easier to complete than many people realize. Honestly, it was not always this way. When I was in high school they only had the paper FAFSA and it was truly a pain to fill out. Plus, after you completed it you had to send it via snail mail (I know the horror right?). Then wait to see if you made any mistakes and had to have it resent for correction and mailed out again. It was a process that was confusing and timely to complete.

Now, it is a much smoother process- in fact it is almost simple. It is available online at and has many features to unlock the dark mysteries involved in completing it. Some of the best are the help boxes located throughout letting you know what they are looking for, an online person to contact and a number to call (all available on the website). There is even the ability to connect with the IRS website to instantly plug in your tax information! Parent and students even sign via a digital signature (FSA ID). It can all be completed and submitted quickly. Then, in 3-5 business days you receive your SAR (student aid report) showing you some estimated federal aid you may qualify for and allowing you to look over what was submitted. If you see a mistake you are able to log in and correct it in an instant with no issues!!

Previously, the FAFSA was completed in January, but since many students must take cost into account when picking their school they are going to attend starting this year they have moved up the date. You may complete and submit your FAFSA starting Oct. 1st (which you want to do ASAP since state aid can run out quickly). Please be sure you are completing the correct FAFSA year- 2017-2018 (the year you will actually be attending college).

Another new feature is the tax year used when reporting income. It used to be the prior year meaning you had to first estimate based on the previous tax year and then go in and update after taxes were filed. Now they use prior prior year tax information which will make things so much easier! Those taxes are already done (2015) ready for you to link from the IRS website.

For those who do not files taxes, you will be inputting information about your family income such as:

  • Child support received

  • Housing, food or other living allowances paid to members of the military, clergy or others

  • Worker’s compensation

  • Disability benefits

  • It will also ask if you household received any of the following benefits: SSI, SNAP, TANF, WIC, or Free/Reduced lunch

Go ahead and get this information together before you complete the FAFSA, along with other information such as social security number, driver license number, number of people in the household, parent marital status and which schools you want to send the information to (schools you will be applying to).

If you get confused UB has a lot of helpful resources to refer to such as the senior parent newsletter, weekly handouts (especially Sept. week 4 and Oct. week 1), or ask your UB advisor directly.

Now, put up your owl patronus and vanquish that-which-must-not-be-named!


Upward Bound is funded by the U.S. Department of Education & sponsored by Douglas-Cherokee Economic Authority Inc.