A college education is a major financial investment, and it's important to find as much financial assistance as possible to position yourself for academic success. The first step to obtaining financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which serves as an application for several forms of federal student aid, including grants, work-study programs, and loans. Most public health programs, colleges, and universities require new applicants and returning students to complete a FAFSA each year in order to qualify for student aid.

Most public health programs, colleges, and universities require new applicants and returning students to complete a FAFSA each year in order to qualify for student aid.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 85% of students receive some financial aid for postsecondary undergraduate programs. The U.S. Department of Education administers and oversees the FAFSA program, and many states, colleges, and other organizations use FAFSA information to determine students' eligibility for state and school financial aid. The guide below explains how students in public health programs can take advantage of the FAFSA, including understanding different types of funding and eligibility requirements.

How to Get Financial Aid for Public Health Programs

Many forms of general and public health-specific financial aid are available to public health students through the FAFSA. The Federal Student Loan Program helps students pay for college with grants, work-study programs, and low-interest student loans. Scholarships are available from various sources, including corporations, colleges, religious organizations, and nonprofits. The federal government also offers loan forgiveness programs for eligible students.

In most cases, grants are need-based gifts that do not need to be repaid. If you withdraw early from school, change your enrollment status from full-time to part-time, or receive outside funding, you may be required to repay all or part of your federal grant. Loans, on the other hand, must be repaid with interest, and come in multiple forms. Work-study programs provide part-time jobs, both on- and off-campus, for graduate and undergraduate students with financial need. You can use the money for a variety of education-related expenses, such as tuition and fees, books and supplies, transportation, living expenses, room and board, miscellaneous personal expenses, and an allowance for care for students with dependents.

You must submit a FAFSA every year, as your financial situation may change from year to year.

You must submit a FAFSA every year, as your financial situation may change from year to year. You must also meet specific requirements to remain eligible for FAFSA funding. To determine the amount of need-based aid you can receive, the U.S. Department of Education considers the cost of attendance (COA) at your school and subtracts your expected family contribution (EFC) from it. The EFC is determined by your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits like unemployment or Social Security. The EFC is not the amount of money your family has to pay for your education, but rather an index number used by your school to figure out how much financial aid you are eligible to receive each year.

Each year, you must meet specific criteria to remain eligible for federal aid. In addition to earning your high school diploma or GED, you must demonstrate financial need, be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, have a Social Security number, be registered with the Selective Service (for males only), be enrolled or accepted at a school, be enrolled at least half-time, and maintain satisfactory academic progress. Each school has its own standards for satisfactory academic progress. Eligible noncitizens, or permanent residents with a green card, are also available to receive financial aid. These requirements are not absolute, and there may be individual exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

All college applicants have a long to-do list, but the FAFSA must take priority. Some schools and states award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is essential that you submit a completed FAFSA as soon as possible. Each year, the FAFSA becomes available on October 1. In some cases, states enact deadlines for "as soon as possible after October 1." Studies show that students who filed their FAFSA in the first three months received more than double the grant money in 2015s. It can also be important to file the FAFSA when you can demonstrate the most financial need. If your state doesn't grant aid on a first-come, first-served basis, some student families may benefit from moving assets to Roth IRAs or keeping an eye on the stock market. If you have significant stock investments and the market crashes after you file, you won't be able to change the value of your accounts on the FAFSA.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

Prepare your FAFSA application materials as early on as possible. Start by creating an FSA ID, which is the fastest way to sign your application and have it processed. As of the 2017-2018 school year, applicants must report income tax information from the previous tax year. You will also need records of untaxed income, such as child support, veterans noneducation benefits, workers' compensation, and disability benefits. You also need records of your net worth assets, such as money in cash, savings, and checking accounts, as well as business ownership and other investments, stocks, bonds, and certificates of deposit. Required documents include tax information and, for dependent students, a record of assets belonging to your parents. Although it is not required, a driver's license further confirms your identity to the Department of Education. Lastly, you should have a list of potential schools you wish to receive your FAFSA information.

Filling Out Your FAFSA

The recommended method of completing the FAFSA is online. You can also print and fill out a PDF and mail it in. The Department of Education will also mail you a copy at your request. All three FAFSA submission methods are free, but online submission is the quickest and most reliable. The FAFSA requires you to answer a series of questions, which fall into five general categories regarding personal, familial, and financial information. You must also complete a certification statement. Dependent students' parents must also complete the certification statement. Applicants must agree to use any financial aid they receive only for the cost of attending school. They must also prove that they are not in default on a federal student loan and do not owe money on a federal student grant. Applicants must also agree not to receive a federal Pell Grant for more than one college.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

When submitting your FAFSA, you must certify that all information on the form is correct. Sign the application electronically or on a printed paper to confirm that all the information is correct and you agree to the general FAFSA terms stated on the confirmation page. When you submit, you will see a confirmation web page. Print it and keep it for your records.

Student Aid Report

After submitting your FAFSA, you will receive a student aid report (SAR) that summarizes the information you provide on your application. Review the SAR carefully to make sure all the information is correct. The SAR contains your EFC and a four-digit data release number. There may come a time when the schools listed on your FAFSA will ask you to verify the accuracy of the information. If you find a mistake on your SAR, you must correct the FAFSA. If your SAR asks for additional verification, update your FAFSA to reflect any change in the number of family members in your or your parents' household. If this number changed as a result of marriage, speak with the financial aid office at your prospective school to find out if you may update your FAFSA form.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

When you receive your financial aid offer, read and follow the instructions in that offer. To accept the money, you might have to enter the amount that you wish to receive on an online form, or mail in a hard copy. You do not have to accept all the money offered to you, especially regarding loan offers. You may also request a lower loan amount, accepting only what you need. In most cases, you will receive your financial aid in at least two disbursements. Schools often make payments at least once per term.

What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?

The Federal deadline for the 2018-2019 FAFSA is midnight, central time on June 30, 2019. Application corrections must be completed by midnight on September 14, 2019. Each state and college have a different deadline. Be sure to check the deadlines for each.

Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?

No, you do not need to have outstanding grades to receive federal aid. If you maintain satisfactory progress while you are in school, you should be able to receive consistent financial aid through the completion of your program.

Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?

There is no age limit for FAFSA recipients. Age is not a factor considered by the Department of Education when determining students' aid eligibility.

Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?

No, because there is no income threshold to be eligible for aid. Your FAFSA automatically enters your application for state and school funding. There is no telling what you will receive until you apply, and you or your parents' present income is not a deciding factor.

Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?

Your parents' citizenship status is not a factor in whether or not you receive aid. In fact, this question is not on the FAFSA application. If your parents do not have Social Security numbers, they may enter "000-00-0000" in those fields instead of leaving them blank.

How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

For most applicants, the process of filling out a FAFSA, carefully reviewing it, and submitting it takes about 30-45 minutes.

Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?

Yes, you can complete your FAFSA before applying to any schools. You must list at least one school on your application. It is best to list on your application all the schools to which you intend to apply.

Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?

You can find plenty of helpful FAFSA information on a variety of websites. Be sure that you obtain your information from credible sources, such as official .gov sites.