The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (known as the FAFSA) is a form that can be prepared annually by current and prospective college students (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States to determine their eligibility for student financial aid (including the Pell Grant, Federal student loans and Federal Work-Study). Despite its name, the application is not for a single federal program, being rather the gateway of consideration for: the nine federal student-aid programs the 605 state aid programs most of the institutional aid available The U.S. Department of Education accepts applications beginning January 1 of each year for the upcoming academic year. Each application period is 18 months; most federal, state, and institutional aid is provided on a first come, first served basis. There are six (6) states — Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont — that award state grants on a first-come, first-served basis until the money runs out. Students are advised to submit a FAFSA as early as possible for consideration for maximum financial assistance. The U.S. Department of Education advises students to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which is made available on the FAFSA. This tool will retrieve most of the student’s tax information, excluding wages, directly from the IRS and automatically input the information on his or her application. The DRT may be used for both students and parents alike. Applicants who have completed a FAFSA in previous years may submit a renewal FAFSA. Any information that has changed must be updated annually. The FAFSA consists of numerous questions (at least 130 for the 2010–2011 academic year) regarding a student’s (and his or her family’s) assets, income, and dependency. These are entered into a formula that determines the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). A number of factors are used in determining the EFC including the household size, income, number of students from household in college and assets (not including retirement and 401(k) funds, the family home and small businesses owned and controlled by the family). This information is required because of the expectation that parents will contribute to their child’s education, whether that is true or not. The FAFSA does not have questions related to a student’s or family’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. FAFSA does ask which colleges a student is applying to, and the entire list of up to ten colleges is sent to each college; as a result, admissions officers can see which other colleges a student is applying to. There was controversy about college admissions officers and enrollment consultants using data mining techniques to analyze these lists, and concerns that colleges interpret a higher FAFSA position as a sign of demonstrated interest in attending, as well as concerns that colleges could deny admission, waitlist applicants, or offer less financial aid as a result of such interpretations. Advisers recommend alphabetical lists of colleges to obscure preferences. A Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of the FAFSA responses, is forwarded to the student. The student should review the SAR carefully for errors and make any corrections. An electronic version of the SAR (called an ISIR) is made available to the colleges/universities the student selects on the FAFSA. The ISIR is also sent to state agencies that award need-based aid. Some colleges also require the CSS Profile to be filled out as early as the same deadline as an early admissions or early decision application deadline, beginning October 1 of each year for the upcoming academic year. The CSS is a fee-based product of the College Board and usually concerns funds disbursed by a college rather than federal or state funds.

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