Top Tips to Decode the FASFA!

By Christi Taylor, Director of Statewide Initiatives, Michigan College Access Network

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You've worked with your high school students in the expanded learning space for the past three years. They're all excited about possibilities in STEM, the arts and other degrees, dreaming of the future. You've helped them tour colleges and your seniors even have their applications into their favorite university programs. Yet there's one big hitch... how do they get the financial aid to make dreams reality?!

We at the Michigan College Access Network  often hear that one of the biggest barriers to students filling out college applications and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). This application is the student’s gateway into receiving financial aid from the US Department of Education, including grants and loans. The FASFA is tricky in particular since many students don’t know what information they actually need prior to sitting down and filling it out. One of the simplest and most significant ways to support seniors is to help them gather the information and materials they need ahead of time, so that they can easily and smoothly complete their applications and their FAFSA without having to scramble to gather information. Some of the most common things are listed below:

  • Social security number (both student and parent[s])
  • Driver’s license (if any) or state ID
  • Permanent resident receipt card (If applicable)
  • W-2 forms and other 2015 records of money earned
  • 2015 income tax return (if it has been completed, otherwise last year’s taxes to be used as estimates until filed)
  • Records of child support paid
  • Records of taxable earning from Federal Work-Study or other need-based work programs
  • Records of student grant, scholarship, and fellowship aid, including AmeriCorps awards, that was included in student or parent AGI
  • Current stock, bond, and other investment records
  • Current business and farm records
  • Current bank statement

Keep in mind that the FASFA should not cost students any money to complete! Same with scholarships – if a scholarship provider is trying to charge a student for their services, the scholarship is likely a scam. Make sure students know where to go when looking for financial aid. The FAFSA can be found at This is the only site students should use to file their FAFSA.

Trusted scholarship providers include local community foundations, colleges and universities, high schools, and websites such as You can also see MCAN’s website for a Michigan scholarship directory!

If families don’t have 2015 taxes filed yet, that’s okay! The FAFSA is set up so that families can use their 2014 taxes as an estimate, and then go back into the FAFSA and make any necessary edits once 2015 taxes are filed.

We know the FAFSA can be intimidating, but it’s easier than ever to file! The Michigan College Access Network has gathered some of the best FAFSA resources on our website at: There are also many great resources at - this site covers everything you need to know about the FAFSA.

Finally, remember the FAFSA is just one step – once students apply to college, get accepted, and get the money they need to attend, they’ll need to decide on a college by May 1! See MCAN’s website,, for more information about supports for every step in the college admissions process.

What are you doing to help prepare your students to go to college or trade school this month? Let us know in the comments!