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 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Need help with the FAFSA?

Call the Iowa College Access Network (ICAN) for free help: 877-272-4692. ICAN will schedule an appointment for you at their Council Bluffs office located in the Enrollment Services Office at Iowa Western Community College. Start to work on the FAFSA after October 1st. To see what you will need to complete the FAFSA, click here.

Student Financial Aid

Student financial aid can include any or all of the following:

  • Grants & Scholarships - gift money that students are not required to pay back
  • Work Study - jobs on a college campus in which the student works and receives wages
  • Student Loans - loans which can be used to finance a student's education; a major source of loans come from the federal government through its student loan program

Why complete the FAFSA?

1. To qualify for federal and state financial aid programs based on need
2. To be eligible for a federal Stafford student loan regardless of need or income
3. So colleges can see a student's FAFSA before they distribute their own financial aid
4. Some scholarships require page one of the Student Aid Report (SAR) to be included with scholarship materials
5. It is free and can possibly yield positive benefits
6. If a parent employment status would change due to illness or loss of job

Basic Information on Financial Aid

1. Set up a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) - The student who will be submitting the FAFSA and in most cases at least one parent will also need a Federal Student Aid ID if the student is deemed to be a dependent student on the FAFSA. To set up an FSA ID, the student and or parent will need to go to the website (no www) fsaid.ed.gov. If a parent already has an FSA ID when an older child completed the FAFSA, the parent can use the same FSA ID. If the parent has lost or forgotten the user name and password, go to fsaid.ed.gov and click on the tab "Manage My FSA ID" and the username and password can be recovered. Once a person makes an FSA ID, you cannot make a new one and the original FSA ID will need to be recovered. For help in creating the FSA ID go to: www.icansucceed.org/fsaid to see instructions and a short video.

2. File the FAFSA - The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the basic federal government form for students to file to apply for financial aid. It is required to be filed for most federal and state sources of financial aid including federally subsidized student loans. The FAFSA cannot be filed until after October 1st of a calendar year in which a student will attend the next academic year including while a student is in college. The FAFSA may be filed electronically over the Internet or in paper form. The electronic form is the most popular way to file the FAFSA. The FAFSA website is located at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The student will need to list the colleges that they are considering attending in the FAFSA.

3. Receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) - After filing the FAFSA, a student and parent will receive a SAR. The SAR is a listing of all the information that was entered in the FAFSA. If an e-mail address is entered in the FAFSA, the SAR will be sent by e-mail. If not, a paper copy of the SAR will be sent to the student and parent. It is important to check the SAR for any errors in information and if found, can be corrected in the FAFSA electronically or by contacting the college financial aid office of the student. It is important to keep the SAR in case any information is needed later.

4. Verification - Colleges are required by the federal government to verify a percentage of their students' FAFSAs. This may be a random check or some colleges may actually verify all of their students FAFSA numbers. If this happens to you, you are not under suspicion of doing something wrong, it is just a requirement that colleges have to go through. Just follow the directions that that college sends to you, and the process should be fairly easy to complete.

5. Review the financial aid award letter(s) - In the spring (March to early May), students will receive a financial aid award letter from the colleges which they have been admitted and where the student's FAFSA information has been sent. Students and parents need to evaluate the financial aid package and decide if they are willing to accept that package from the particular college.

6. Sign and return the financial aid award letter - If the student and parent is willing to accept the financial aid package offered from the college, then it needs to be signed and sent back to the college. This does not commit the student to attend the college, but if the student does attend, they will attend under this financial aid package.

7. Change in financial aid situation - If a student's financial aid situation changes drastically after filing the FAFSA (i.e. parent losing a job or parent becoming ill or disabled and cannot work), contact the college financial aid office to see if they will do a professional judgment to compensate for the student's financial situation.  

8. Check eligibility for State of Iowa student aid programs - Students need to do the eligibility wizard that is available to check on eligibility for State of Iowa student aid programs and to complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application if eligible. To access the wizard and the Iowa Financial Aid Application go to the Iowa College Aid Commission website.

9. Reminder - Students will need to complete the FAFSA and the financial aid process for each year that they are in college.