As you’re preparing for the college application process or helping your student through it, financial aid may feel like the most confusing, overwhelming and daunting part. In-state tuition and fees at public National Universities have grown the most, increasing 243 %which doesn’t include other cost factors.  You’ve heard of this FAFSA thing, but you’re not sure what it is, why it’s beneficial or why you should even go through the trouble of filling it out, especially if you have college savings set aside or significant income. The truth is though, you MUST complete the FAFSA to really get the most out of your financial aid options. Today, we’re going to walk through what the FAFSA actually is as well as giving you 5 reasons why it’s not optional, but essential.

First things first, what the heck is the FAFSA?

FAFSA is an acronym, that stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The original purpose of the FAFSA was to be used by the US Department of Education in an effort to determine what a family can afford to pay on an annual basis for college. However, if you’re like most families, you may not agree with the government’s assessment. The FAFSA was designed to try and level the playing field for all families and equalize educational opportunities. There are a lot of ways you can leverage it to your advantage to get the most out of financial aid. Here’s 5 ways to do that!

Need-Based Financial Aid

Any need-based aid, in particular with state or government funding, require the FAFSA. The form is based off family contribution, mainly these 7 things:

– Parent’s income

– Student’s income

– Parent’s assets

– Student’s assets

– Number in the family

– Age of the oldest providing adult in the family,

– Number in college simultaneously

All of this goes into determining your EFC number or Expected Family Contribution. This number helps a school, government agency or other organization determine the amount of aid you can afford and to determine how much additional money they may give you.

The FAFSA application process opens every year on October 1 and it must be completed annually. Some money is first come, first serve, so applying earlier is beneficial. While you can complete it for free, it’s important to remember 83% of college bound families fail to fill it out or do so incorrectly, potentially costing them thousands. Think about it like filing your taxes. You can do it alone, but it goes much more smoothly and you get a lot more of a return when an expert handles things for you. We’d be happy to help you with that anytime! You can get started on the FAFSA at

Merit-Based Financial Aid

This can be academic, athletic, or other types of merit-based financial aid that are based on ability or talent, etc. If you’re in the state of GA, it’s important to know the facts about the two most common sources of academic merit-based aid; Hope and Zell. What are the requirements for each?

Zell Scholarship — 3.7 (GFSC) GPA or better (different than weighted or unweighted GPA on school transcript). Qualifying test score of 26 on the ACT or a 1200 on the SAT in a single sitting, no super-scoring allowed. Deadline to qualify is always the last day of your high school career.

Hope Scholarship – 3.0 GPA. Any score on SAT or ACT. You can also qualify after the fact on for this scholarship. For more specifics and details visit

Tuition discounts

Filling out these forms is essential to being considered for tuition discount programs, like matching in-state tuition for out of state students, price matching of another institution or other programs like the TIP program at Western Kentucky for example. Many schools require the FAFSA or CSS profile anyways for granting financial aid. They aren’t always specific to family income, but can be. Require FAFSA or CSS to determine eligibility

Positional and Competitive Leverage Strategies

This is aid received based off of things like demonstrated interest and other factors that colleges use to determine a student’s value to the university, like…

– Timing of submission of FAFSA and applications, etc >> higher demonstrated interest. Higher priority.

– Failing to submit FAFSA >> not very interested in the university

The earlier it is submitted, the better. Remember to always submit it each year, with accurate information, as early as possible.

Fed Loan Programs

Not all loan programs are bad! There are some great federal loan programs out there that you can leverage to finance your college journey. The Stafford Loan is a great example. There are two types:

Subsidized – Not accruing interest while the student has the loan, as the US Department of Education pays the interest.

Unsubsidized – The student is responsible for the interest, but payments aren’t due until 6 months after graduation or is no longer a full time student. Taking a co-op does not count. This would still qualify as full-time student status.

The FAFSA is an essential powerful and necessary tool to maximize financial outcome and it’s one you want to make sure you leverage to get the most out of it. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us here at CPI!