The cost of a degree in accounting may seem daunting to students and their families. Many students embark on their college admissions journey with little awareness of the financial aid opportunities available to them. Students seeking financial aid for accounting programs should begin by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the FAFSA serves as the gateway to Federal Student Aid programs, which provide over $120 billion annually in federal grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study funds to more than 13 million students. The information collected on the FAFSA determines students' eligibility to receive any form of need-based federal aid. The FAFSA may also inform decisions about privately funded scholarships, college-specific assistance, or state-funded loans and grants.
You should complete the FAFSA application even if you plan to pay for your education yourself, or if you believe that your family income level is too high to qualify for financial assistance. Several schools require you to submit the FAFSA as part of their application process. Anyone who intends to pursue a graduate or undergraduate degree should learn about FAFSA funding or risk missing out on potential sources of student aid.
What Types of Financial Aid Are Available for Accounting Programs?
Students planning to study accounting should research the kinds of financial assistance available and the differences between them. Students often consider grants and scholarships highly desirable because they do not require repayment. Loans come with the expectation of repayment, though loan-forgiveness programs that forgive the debt in part or in full do exist for those pursuing degrees in certain fields. Work-study programs place students in campus jobs in exchange for funding. Federal and state governments administer the majority of student aid programs, followed by colleges and private foundations.
Completion of the FAFSA for accounting students determines the type and the extent of funding available to them. Schools calculate the amount of financial aid awarded to a student by applying the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula, based on information from the FAFSA about family size, income, and other assets. Once awarded federal aid, recipients may continue to receive assistance as long as they maintain the basic eligibility requirements and fill out the FAFSA form each year of enrollment.
Students apply their FAFSA aid to an array of educational purposes, including career schools, college programs, and graduate or professional degrees. Students sometimes rely on loans issued by the federal government or private banks to finance their education. Most borrowers prefer federal loans that carry a fixed interest rate and do not require repayment until after leaving school.
Students should consider private loans only after exhausting other funding sources because they typically charge higher interest rates and impose stricter repayment rules than federal loans. Grants, sometimes referred to as "gift aid," generally do not require repayment unless the student drops out of school or goes on academic probation. Some schools offer work-study programs that place students in part-time, on-campus jobs.
FAFSA Eligibility Requirements
Eligibility for student aid through the FAFSA requires admission to or enrollment in a recognized degree or certificate program. U.S. citizens or permanent residents who hold a green card can fill out the FAFSA application. Applicants must possess a Social Security card or official government ID, and males between 18 and 25 must provide evidence of Selective Service registration. Educational requirements include a high school diploma, GED, or recognized homeschool equivalency. While most applicants who meet the basic eligibility criteria qualify for aid, some exceptions apply, depending on the circumstances. Those who have been incarcerated or convicted for a drug or sexual offense may find their eligibility restricted.
How to Complete the FAFSA
Deadlines for applying for financial aid vary by state. Several states set their filing deadlines as soon as possible after October 1, the date that FAFSA becomes available each year. Some schools and states distribute their funding on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that students who submit the FAFSA within the first 90 days of the filing season may receive more funding than others who file later. While filing early may increase the size of the award, those who file later may benefit by reducing the amount of income used in the aid calculation. For example, some families may choose to delay the timing of their application if they can reduce reported earnings, shelter after-tax dollars in annuities or retirement plans, or accelerate debt payments.
What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?
The FAFSA application may seem intimidating, but if you take the time to gather all required documentation in advance, it's a simple process. Once you have collected all your records, create an FSA ID following the instructions on the website. Parents of dependent students also need to set up an FSA ID. Acceptable forms of identification include a valid driver's license, social security card, or Alien Registration Number. The FAFSA requests tax returns from the past year and any records showing untaxed income. Parents of dependent students need to provide their tax records. If you did not file a tax return, you should submit W-2 or 1099 forms, or pay stubs for each job held over the past year. You or your parents must report any other assets, such as real estate investments or income from stocks. Applicants should also document any unusual expenses and their total debt load. Before submitting your form, make sure to list at least one school to receive your eligibility information.
Filling Out Your FAFSA
The FAFSA provides three ways to file. Online filing offers the fastest and most convenient option. Students choosing the PDF option may fill the form out on the computer before printing it out, or complete it by hand and mail it. Online filing shortens the FAFSA review process and allows applicants to list up to 10 colleges to receive their information. The paper version limits applicants to only four potential schools.
The application requires basic background information, including address, marital and citizenship status, and legal records. It also requests the education level of applicants and their parents, the intended degree, and work-study preference. Financial records include tax returns and any evidence of untaxed income. The student status section includes questions for military dependents, emancipated students, or wards of the state. The household section gathers information about the number of residents living in the home and how many will attend college in the coming year.
Parents of dependent children must provide answers to many of the financial, household, and status questions. The student, and a parent if the student is a dependent, must sign the certification statement confirming the accuracy of all information provided and agreement to all terms.
Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA
- Apply Online: The online version of the FAFSA uses skip-logic, asking only relevant questions based on the applicant's previous responses and skipping those that do not apply. The online application catches common errors, resulting in greater accuracy and faster processing.
- Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT): The IRS DRT transfers the applicant's tax information directly into the FAFSA form, exactly as it has been reported. This tool saves time and eliminates mistakes that slow down processing.
- List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order: While federal aid does not ask applicants to list schools in any particular order, state aid eligibility sometimes requires you to do so. Students should verify state listing requirements before submitting their application.
- Fill out Every Field of the Form: Fill in all fields, using a "0" to answer questions that do not apply to you. Skipped answers and blank fields slow down the processing of your FAFSA; delays may affect the amount of aid awarded.
- Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances: Make sure to include any unexpected expenses, such as major medical bills or a reduction in income because of unemployment on your FAFSA. In these special cases, you may submit a supplementary letter explaining why the situation requires more assistance and include third-party documentation.
Submitting the FAFSA
How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?
Online FAFSA submission requires the student (and a parent for dependent students) to sign the application electronically. If submitting a paper application, students and parents must provide handwritten signatures before returning the form by mail. The signed confirmation page attests to the accuracy of the information provided and acceptance of FAFSA regulations for receiving aid.
Student Aid Report
After you submit your FAFSA application, you will receive your student aid report (SAR), which provides information about your financial aid eligibility. When you receive your copy of the SAR, make sure to review it for mistakes and correct any errors as soon as possible on the Federal Student Aid website. Your SAR includes the EFC, the amount your family should expect to contribute to your educational expenses. The schools listed on your FAFSA application use the SAR data as the basis for awarding federal assistance and other kinds of aid. If your SAR has been selected for verification, your school cannot finalize your financial aid package until you submit the requested additional documentation.
How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?
Each school determines how and when you receive FAFSA funding. Once you have been admitted, the school sends you an aid offer providing a breakdown of the amount of the grants, loans, or work-study in your financial aid package. You can choose which portions of the award award to accept. Consider your situation carefully, accepting only what you need, especially if your aid package includes loans. Check with your school to find out how soon to expect disbursement of your federal aid, as each school has its own procedures.
What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?
Online applications must be filed by midnight CST on June 30, but keep in mind that state deadlines vary. Check your state's deadline at this FAFSA site.
Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?
As long as students continue to maintain satisfactory academic progress, most federal student aid programs make their awards based on financial need without considering grades.
Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?
No age limit applies to FAFSA eligibility. While the form asks applicants to provide their age, this information is only used to establish parental dependency status.
Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?
FAFSA does not enforce an upper limit on personal or family income. Many factors, such as family size or number of family members enrolled in college affect the funding determination.
Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?
The FAFSA application does not ask about your parent's citizenship status. If they do not hold a valid social security number, they may enter 000-00-0000 when asked for this information on the form.
How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?
As long as you have gathered all your required records and supporting documentation beforehand, the FAFSA application should only take you 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?
Yes, you can file before applying to any colleges. Name at least one school to receive your information, and consider listing others that interest you in case they require early deadlines. You may add or delete schools later.
Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?
The Federal Student Aid website serves as a valuable resource for all your questions about eligibility and filing. You should contact the school where you applied with specific questions about your award.