Paying for education or training beyond high school can be daunting for students and families, but it doesn’t have to be. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, is the one-stop destination for prospective students to apply for all financial assistance, from federal and state grants (such as the Washington College Grant) to merit-based aid and scholarships distributed by colleges and universities. And there’s help available to get the form done.
By Partnership for Learning
Taking the fear out of applying for financial aid
There are several toolkits and community resources that students and families can access for help. Ashley DeLatour, program manager at Futures Northwest, an organization dedicated to assisting students pursuing college admissions, recommends students and caregivers check out the Junior/Senior Workbook, Native Pathways to College and College Knowledge guidebooks in addition to attending a Financial Aid completion event.
There are many times in life when DIY strategies are necessary or beneficial, but this isn't one of them.
– Ashley DeLatour
Washington’s Financial Aid calculator can provide a sense of how much aid students might expect. The only way to find out for sure is to fill out that FAFSA or WASFA. The FAFSA website offers an eight-step strategy.
Student social security number or green card information (students who are undocumented should fill out the Washington Application for State Financial Aid)
One parent’s social security number
(if possible, but not required)
Student identification documents
(like a state ID or driver’s license)
Access to parents’ previous year’s tax return, which for most people can be pulled directly from the IRS while filling out the FAFSA
Access to student and parent financial information (paystubs and bank statements)
Participation of a parent in completing the form (unless the student meets specific requirements or is age 24 or older)
Students can complete the FAFSA/WAFSA well before they apply to a postsecondary education or training program, in fact early completion is encouraged. When filling it out, students can list up to 10 colleges or universities to which they would like to send their FAFSA information. That doesn’t mean the student is committing to apply to all 10 schools, just that the schools will have the information needed to make financial aid decisions if the student applies. “So if you haven't yet narrowed your list of schools down, put all 10,” Winstead suggests.
Winstead also encourages students to seek out help. Talking with a college financial aid advisor or attending a WSAC event can set a strong foundation. Demystifying the process is why Winstead got into this line of work in the first place.
I made an appointment and they went through the [FAFSA] website with me. They helped me understand what information I needed.
– Letisia Alaniz
DeLatour encouraged students and families to take heart in the support available and the reward that can come from completing a financial aid application. “I recommend getting the most up-to-date information so that you can have these conversations with facts leading your decisions over fears,” she says. “Getting that financial aid application done is an important milestone and one that can result money to pay for a post-high school education.”
Partnership for Learning,
the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable, brings together business leaders and education partners to improve our state’s education system, so Washington students are ready to pursue the career pathways of their choice.
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Washington College Grant
Recent high school graduates and working-age adults from many low- and middle-income families can qualify to receive money for college or career training in Washington state.
WCG is available to eligible Washington residents, including undocumented students.
There are no age limits.
Recipients must meet program requirements and attend an approved college or program, part time or full time.
“Filling out the FAFSA or the WASFA opens the door to money that pays for all kinds of education from certificate and degree programs to apprenticeships,” says Christina Winstead, assistant director for outreach, college access and support at the Washington Student Achievement Council. “There is often a lot more money available than students or families realize. And there is individualized help available to support students and families in completing the form.”
“A financial aid officer sat down with me for 30 minutes and it completely changed my trajectory,” she says. And when it comes to students filling out the FAFSA now, she says, “that’s what I want for them.”
Students and families in Washington state can consult an array of organizations, like WSAC and Futures Northwest, to help answer questions about the FAFSA/WAFSA via live and virtual events and help sessions. They can consult high school counselors, the College Success Foundation, local institutions of higher learning, and college readiness programs like WSAC’s GEAR UP. High schools in Washington state also offer Financial Aid Advising Days at the start of each academic year.
Letisia Alaniz, a media studies and environmental science student at Centralia College, experienced this type of support firsthand. “I made an appointment and they went through the [FAFSA] website with me,” she said in a blog post for Ready Washington. “They helped me understand what information I needed.”
One big question likely to be on students’ minds: what do I need to fill out the form?
The FAFSA opened October 1st for students interested in seeking financial aid during the 2023-24 academic year. Also open now is the WASFA (Washington Application for State Financial Aid), for Washington students who aren’t eligible for federal aid—including people who are undocumented—to get state aid only.
The FAFSA/WASFA journey is possible
Create your FSA ID and get started at fafsa.gov
Fill out the Student Demographics section
List the schools you want to receive your FAFSA information
Answer the dependency status questions and fill out the parent demographics section
Provide financial information
Sign and submit your FAFSA form
NAVIGATE YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS
An eligible student from a family of four with income of $64,500 or less per year would get a full award.
Public college tuition would likely be free for a family with three children and a single parent making $28 per hour.