Families looking for a head start on the financial aid process might consider taking advantage of a handy tool developed by the federal government for just this purpose.
Thanks to our friends at the Department of Education, you can use FAFSA4caster to get the ball rolling on the federal component of student aid and receive an early estimate of your eligibility for financial support under one or more of the government programs.
And you don’t have to wait until you’re a senior in high school. Parents of younger students can use the online tool to receive early estimates, create scenarios based on future earnings, and consider various college funding strategies.
Most simply, FAFSA4caster is a free financial aid calculator designed to provide an instant estimate of eligibility for federal aid based on a series of financial and other questions. It's not tied to any particular college, sponsor, or the College Board.
And thanks to the FAFSA4caster you can:
- Receive an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid
- Have an experience that’s similar to FAFSA on the Web
- Apply for and receive your Federal PIN, which is required for the real FAFSA
- Learn what kind of information is necessary to have on hand to complete the FAFSA
- Transfer data from the FAFSA4caster to your FAFSA in January when you’re ready
- Calculate an estimated Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which will help with college planning
- Increase your knowledge of the federal aid process and learn more about other sources of aid
You can find FAFSA4caster at www.fafsa.gov. Click on the appropriate box under “Thinking About College?”
You will then be asked a series of questions, most of which should be easy to answer. Some, however, require information based on recent federal tax information or bank statements, so you might want to have personal records nearby.
For each item, use the most current information available. Be sure to answer all of the questions even if you have to estimate or guess.
When you complete FAFSA4caster, the tool displays a worksheet to help you determine the net cost of attending a particular school—your choice. A link to College Navigator will provide you with the most up-to-date information on the school’s current cost of attendance and the tool does all of the computations.
FAFSA4caster will show your estimated Federal Pell Grant amount (if any), Federal Work-Study amount (based on the average national), and the maximum Direct Subsidized Loan and Direct Unsubsidized Loan eligibility.
Once you click on “Calculate,” FAFSA4caster summarizes the cost, total aid entered, and the difference or net cost of attending college. An estimated Expected Family Contribution (EFC) also appears.
You can then compare schools by changing cost of attendance, deleting state aid if you will be an out-of-state student at a particular school, amending the amount of aid available from the school, and so on.
The “real” FAFSA cannot be submitted until January 1, 2015, but you can fill out a FAFSA4caster now.
And if you question your eligibility for federal aid or if you're just plain curious, there’s no reason not to give it a try.