Higher Education News
As a graduate student, I‘m no stranger to filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), and when I filed my 2016-17 FAFSA, I was prompted to create an FSA ID—the username and password you need to log in to the FAFSA. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and voila! I easily created my very own FSA ID in no time!
The FSA ID replaced the Federal Student Aid PIN (check out this blog post explaining why). Students, parents, and borrowers must use an FSA ID to log on to certain Department of Education (ED) websites like fafsa.gov, StudentAid.gov, and StudentLoans.gov. The FSA ID is a more secure way to access and sign important documents without using personally identifiable information (PII).
More than 30 million FSA IDs have been created, and people, like me, have used their FSA ID more than 146 million* times. With any new process, there are some myths floating around about creating and using an FSA ID. Let’s tackle some of those right now…Myth #1:
It’ll take a long time to create my FSA ID.
On average, it takes about seven minutes to create an FSA ID. If you previously had a Federal Student Aid PIN, you can link it to your FSA ID; this will help eliminate a few steps in the process. Federal Student Aid (FSA) has a variety of resources, like this helpful video, that walks you through each step of creating an FSA ID.Myth #2:
Only students need to create an FSA ID.
If you are a dependent student, then your parent will need an FSA ID, too (if he or she will sign the FAFSA electronically). That’s because you will need to provide your parent’s information on your FAFSA and your parent, will need to sign the FAFSA, as well. But here is something very important—your parent must create his or her own, separate FSA ID. Your parent shouldn’t use your FSA ID, and you shouldn’t create an FSA ID for your parent.
If you’re not sure if you’re a dependent student, visit StudentAid.gov/dependency.Myth #3:
It’s okay to let someone else create or use my FSA ID.
Not okay. Each individual person needs to create his or her own FSA ID. A Parent should NOT be creating an FSA ID for their child, and a student should NOT be creating an FSA ID for his or her parent. For example, if a parent tries to create both the parent’s and child’s FSA ID, it’s easy to mix up information like Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and usernames and passwords. Because we verify your information with the Social Security Administration (SSA), it’s crucial that this information be correct. Also, if someone else creates your FSA ID, how will you know the answers to your challenge questions if you need to retrieve a lost username or password?
Also, FSA IDs are used to sign legally binding documents, so giving someone access to your FSA ID is like allowing them to forge your signature. Be sure to create your own FSA ID, and save yourself the trouble.Myth #4:
I need an e-mail address to create an FSA ID
You do NOT need an e-mail address to create an FSA ID. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave this field blank. Adding your e-mail address is strongly recommended, though, because once your e-mail address is verified, you can enter it instead of your username when you log in. You can also use your e-mail address to retrieve your forgotten username or password or to unlock your account. It’s easy to update and verify your e-mail address by clicking “Edit My FSA ID.”Myth #5:
As a parent, I can use the same e-mail address for both my FSA ID and my child’s.
An e-mail address cannot be used with more than one FSA ID. If you choose to provide an e-mail address when creating your FSA ID, the student will need to include his or her e-mail own address, and the parent will need to include his or her own e-mail address. If you don’t have an e-mail address, you can leave the field blank.Myth #6:
I need an FSA ID to fill out the FAFSA.
The fastest way to sign and submit your FAFSA is to use an FSA ID. That said, if you or your parent don’t have an FSA ID, you can still submit the FAFSA. If you fill out the FAFSA online, but don’t have an FSA ID, you can choose the option to submit your FAFSA without signatures, and print and mail a signature page. If you can’t fill out the FAFSA online, you have other options.
Students without access to a computer can receive assistance from a wide range of college access organizations, like the National College Access Network (NCAN); a student can also visit a local library, use a computer at school, as well as get help from school counselors.Myth #7: The Social Security Administration has to verify my information before I can use my FSA ID.
If you’re filling out a FAFSA for the first time, you can use your newly created FSA ID to sign and submit your FAFSA right away. But, if you need to submit a renewal FAFSA or make corrections after you’ve submitted your FAFSA—and you did NOT link your PIN when you created your FSA ID—you first have to wait for the SSA to verify your identity. The verification process takes one to three days.
Make sure to enter your information exactly as it appears on your Social Security card to avoid delays. Once your information is verified, you can use your FSA ID to submit your renewal FAFSA, make corrections, access your loan history, and a host of other things.
If you’re a parent, you never have to wait for the SSA match to sign your child’s FAFSA. However, if you sign the FAFSA when your SSA match status is listed as “pending” and it later returns “no match,” we will remove your signature from your child’s FAFSA. If that happens, you will either need to resolve the conflict with the SSA and sign electronically again, or print and mail a signature page.Myth #8:
Confirming my e-mail address can take up to 24 hours.
You should receive your e-mail confirmation within three minutes. Although, your e-mail account’s spam filter could delay your confirmation. It’s a good idea to add the FSA ID e-mail address—FSA-ID@ed.gov—to your address book to make sure you get your confirmation.Myth #9:
I forgot my password, and it’s going to take 30 minutes to reset it.
You only have to wait 30 minutes if you reset your password using your challenge questions.
But, the easiest way to reset your password is to enter your verified e-mail address. Once you do, you can use your FSA ID immediately.
* These figures are accurate as of April 11, 2016.
Alexis Anderson is an intern at Federal Student Aid’s office of communications. She is a graduate student at The George Washington University studying Strategic Public Relations.
Photo by Getty Images.
When I was in my last semester of high school, I checked my family’s mailbox just as much as I checked Snapchat and Instagram combined. It was the season of admissions decisions, and I was getting letters from all the colleges I’d applied to.
But once I’d gotten into several schools, my attention shifted to my e-mail inbox. I was waiting on information that was just as critical: my financial aid offer from each college. I knew that for me, the amount of financial aid I got from a school mattered just as much as the general admissions decision. I’d fallen in love with each of the schools I’d visited, and I knew I’d be happy anywhere. Basically, my choice was going to come down to the money.
Analyzing different aid packages can seem like way too much math for the end of your senior year—at least it did to me—but it’s important stuff. Check out my four steps to make this analysis simpler.What to do once you get an aid offer 1. Make sure you know what you’re looking at.
The financial aid offer (sometimes called an award letter) typically comes in an e-mail from the college’s financial aid office. The offer includes the types and amounts of financial aid you’re eligible to receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. Be sure you understand what each type of aid is and whether it needs to be paid back. For example, when I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, my aid offer was a mix of scholarships, which I didn’t need to pay back, and private loans, which I did. My offer from Duke (booooo) had mainly the same stuff with some grant money mixed in.
Lucky for you, hundreds of colleges nationwide have signed on to present financial aid offers in a standardized format known as the Shopping Sheet. The Shopping Sheet is a standardized award letter template that makes it easy to compare financial aid offers from different schools. In addition to providing personalized information on financial aid and net costs, the Shopping Sheet also provides general information on the college, like graduation rate and loan default rate.2. Find your out-of-pocket cost to attend.
Now you’re going to want to see what you’ll be paying out of pocket if you decide to go to this school. Basically, your out-of-pocket cost (also known as net cost) is what it’ll cost you to attend minus the financial aid you receive that you don’t have to pay back, like grants and scholarships.
To find this amount, start with each school’s cost of attendance. Cost of attendance is a jumble of different expenses, from tuition to books to transportation. It even factors in a food allowance, but this is standardized across students, so it won’t take into account quirks like your $170-a-year Pop-Tart habit. From there, you want to subtract the free money (like grants and scholarships you were awarded) to come up with your out-of-pocket cost. This is the number you’ll want to compare across schools. Good news: If your college presents its aid offer as a Shopping Sheet, this will be calculated for you!
Your financial aid offer will probably include other types of aid too, like work-study and student loans. Remember that work-study is money that you earn through working, and it’s not applied directly to tuition. Also keep in mind that any loans are just borrowed money; you’ll have to pay them back with interest. Finally, you don’t have to accept the loans you’re offered—and if you do accept a loan, it’s okay to accept less than the full amount offered.3. Compare your aid offer with other schools’ offers.
Here’s the crux of the decision, where you pit aid offers against one another to see which school will be the most affordable. Your aid offer is unique to you and each school you apply to, so your aid amounts will vary from school to school. Obviously, cost of attendance will vary, too. This means that you’ll definitely find some discrepancies in what you’d pay out of pocket at the schools that admit you.
Another tool comes in handy here: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great interface for comparing aid offers and attendance costs, with general college information lumped in. In short, it’s an interactive side-by-side of college Shopping Sheets.
For me, I ended up choosing the school with the lowest out-of-pocket cost of attendance. Shopping Sheets weren’t around when I was deciding on a college, so I had to do net calculations myself for each school once all the aid offers had come in.
Looking for more in-depth tips? Head over to the U.S. Department of Education’s page on comparing aid offers and figuring out net price.4. Compare the schools themselves.
Finally, it’s time to analyze the colleges a little more deeply to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Measures like graduation rate and income after graduation are great indicators of a college’s value. These benchmarks can help you come to a decision on where to enroll, especially if you’re down to just a few colleges with pretty similar net costs of attendance. Even if one college’s cost is a little higher, it might be worth paying a little more out of pocket if it means massively larger benefits later down the road.
When I was making this decision, I had about 27 different sites bookmarked on Internet Explorer (yes, Internet Explorer) as I tried to cobble together information from all over about the different schools I’d applied to. Nowadays, all this information is consolidated in the College Scorecard search tool.
The College Scorecard’s information is valuable no matter where you stand with your aid offers. College is a big investment, so you want to make sure that the school you pick is a good fit for you no matter what. But the resource comes in extra clutch when comparing aid offers doesn’t give you a clear winner.
All right, here are our takeaways: Keep an eye on your inboxes. Be on the lookout for different types of aid in your package. Figure out what you’re paying out of pocket (that includes loans!). Compare your offers. Compare your schools. And most of all, eat lots of Pop-Tarts.
Drew Goins is a senior journalism major at the University of North Carolina. He’s also an intern with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office. Likes: politics, language, good puns. Dislikes: mainly kale.
Photo by Getty Images.