A new staple of the fall season is the opening of the financial aid season with the launch of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on Oct. 1. High school seniors and current college students planning to attend classes in the fall 2019 semester can begin applying for financial aid with the FAFSA form, which enables students access to grants, scholarships, work-study and federal student loans.

The FAFSA form is hailed as a crucial first step in the financial aid process and a key indicator for post-high school success by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Completing the FAFSA form can lead to thousands of dollars in aid to cover the costs of college, including increasing eligibility for institutional and private scholarships in addition to federal and state programs.

“We recommend that everyone seeking education and training after high school completes the FAFSA. While federal and state aid is generally need-based and tied to a student’s financial circumstances, the FAFSA can be a required step for scholarships and aid programs from private organizations or even aid from the college itself that is based on merit or other factors,” stated Erick Danielson, ICAN vice president of programs. “Simply filing the FAFSA opens so many doors for students building their plan to pay for their college costs.”

The FAFSA is a free form provided by the US Department of Education. Families should be wary of any websites or organizations that charge a fee to complete the FAFSA. For families seeking assistance, free help is provided by ICAN through the FAFSA Ready Iowa Initiative which aims to have 70 percent of Iowa high school seniors completing that FAFSA to better prepare for college and the workforce. More than 60 events are scheduled throughout Iowa between Oct. 1 and March 15 to assist families in completing the form. Many events are located on college campuses or in high schools. For a complete list visit www.icansucceed.org/fafsareadyiaevents.

ICAN also has locations in Ankeny, Coralville, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Hiawatha, Orange City, Sheldon, Sioux City and Waterloo that offer free FAFSA assistance by appointment. Appointments can be scheduled at www.icansucceed.org/apt.

While there is no formal FAFSA deadline, each college sets a priority date for students to earn maximum awards. Students are encouraged to complete the form before the earliest priority date of the colleges to which they have applied.

“Every college has its own priority date that determines maximum eligibility for financial aid. For example, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have a Dec. 1 priority date. To receive the most aid a student is eligible for at those two institutions, the form would need to be submitted before Dec. 1,” explained Erick Danielson, vice-president of programs at ICAN. “However, if a student is interested in a school with a date of Feb. 1, they have more time to complete the form.”

To complete the FAFSA, families need their 2017 taxes and W2 forms for the student and the parents, as well as a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) for the student and one parent. This FSA ID serves an electronic signature on the FAFSA and login for federal student aid websites. To learn more about the FSA ID, you can watch an instructional video at www.icansucceed.org/fsaid. For a complete list of documents needed to complete the FAFSA, visit www.icansucceed.org/whattobring.

ICAN, a nonprofit organization providing career and college readiness planning to students and parents in Iowa, has been educating and empowering Iowa’s future workforce since 1998.