#91 – Understanding FAFSA and the Financial Aid Process

Unpacking Education May 11, 2022 34 min

As the costs of postsecondary education continue to rise, students and families often must seek funding opportunities to make college more affordable and accessible. Our guest, Tariq Habash from the U.S. Department of Education, provides valuable insights into accessing available funding. Most importantly, he reminds us that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is “the single best thing that a student or family can do to make college more affordable because it unlocks so much additional aid that’s out there.” This application is due June 30 each year.

In this episode, we explore how students and families can unlock doors to educational opportunity through FAFSA and the financial aid process. We define FAFSA and discuss how to complete it. We also explore the many different types of financial aid that are available to students as well as the best ways to access that aid. By being more informed, eligible students can be empowered in the financial aid process and take advantage of available funds.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Our potential lies between what is and what could be.

Kim Butler, American historian


The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:

Unpacking the Financial Aid Process

Each episode of our podcast begins with the quote, “Education is the passport of the future.” Indeed, we believe that education can be a great equalizer. It can open doors to new opportunities and offer students a chance to improve their skills, gain better employment, and get ahead financially and societally. In order to afford postsecondary education, many students must rely on available financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans. Despite the availability of federal funds, over 3 billion dollars’ worth of aid went unclaimed last year because students did not complete the FAFSA process.

In this episode, we demystify the FAFSA process in order to unlock access to these critical funding sources. During our conversation with Tariq Habash from the U.S. Department of Education, we explore the FAFSA process as well as other ways to maximize student financial aid. These actionable tips can be shared with your students and families to help them make college more affordable and attainable. Here are a few highlights from this episode:

  • What Is FAFSA?: FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It determines student eligibility to receive federal grants and loans. Many states also rely on FAFSA applications to help them determine state aid eligibility. Completing the FAFSA is a critical step in the financial aid process.
  • Unclaimed Funds: FAFSA completion has declined recently. Last year, 1.7 million high school graduates didn’t file a FAFSA and left $3.7 billion dollars in available Pell Grants unclaimed by failing to fill out the form.
  • Eligibility: U.S. citizens are eligible to complete the FAFSA. So are many students with green cards. It’s important for students to review full eligibility at studentaid.gov. Eligibility for financial aid is dependent on student need and considers such factors as family size, income, and years of school attended.
  • Available Aid: Aid comes in a variety of forms. Students may qualify for grants and scholarships, which do not need to be repaid, as well as loans, which do require repayment. Work-study programs are often available, as well, to allow students to earn additional funding by working on campus.
  • Application Process: The most important step is completing the FAFSA application at studentaid.gov. This site will guide you through the steps of setting up an account and providing necessary application information.
  • Deadlines for FAFSA: The deadline for submitting your FAFSA is June 30 at 11:59 pm. You may submit as early as October 1. Students are encouraged to complete this process as soon as they are able.
  • Other Resources: The government website is an excellent one-stop shop for financial aid information and can be accessed at studentaid.gov. Also, be sure to speak with your school counselor as well as friends and family members who have gone through the process. Their insights and experiences can help guide you on this journey.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What do you know about FAFSA and the financial aid process?
  • What is FAFSA, and why is it so important to the financial aid process?
  • What types of financial aid are available to students?
  • What is your personal financial aid story?
  • What programs and processes does your school or district currently have in place to support students and families with the financial aid process?
  • How can you help students and families become more informed and supported with completing the FAFSA process and accessing available financial aid?
  • What questions do you still have about FAFSA and the financial aid process, and can you find answers to those questions at studentaid.gov?

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