Why FAFSA is Important
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Many nursing students overlook the importance of this application in their pursuit of financial assistance for nursing school. The application is no longer used for federal scholarship and grant programs alone. In fact, it has become the standard by which many funding sources determine financial need. For this reason, nursing students should complete the form regardless of income level each year they are enrolled in school. This goes for undergraduate and graduate nursing students.
The U.S. Department of Education administers this application process and is responsible for updating forms, criteria, and calculation formulas each year. Typically new application forms are available to students by January annually. Changes to the form are posted to the Department’s website.
Completing the Form
Students must accurately complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be considered for financial aid. Incomplete application can delay awards. Students can fill the form out online or print a blank copy to be mailed in after completion. If you are already enrolled in a nursing program, check with your school to see if they have a preference on how you submit the application.
This is a fairly involved process so set aside time and be as thorough as possible. If you are a dependent, you will need financial information from your parents including bank statements and tax statements. Independent students are not required to include information other than their own. The form includes sections on education background and financial records. Be sure to submit the completed form by the federal deadline. Other organizations, including your school, may have separate submission requirements but it is only official if you meet the deadlines set by the Department of Education.
Student Aid Report
This report is what you receive after submitting your application. The report details your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which is used by schools and other funders to determine the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive. The lower the EFC, the more financial aid you can get in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans.
Your Student Aid Report will be used to determine if you are eligible to receive grants and scholarships from the government including the Nursing Scholarship Program which is a major funder of nursing financial aid. This program has a service component that requires students to work for a healthcare employer in a location that is critically short of qualified nursing staff. Aid from the program can be used to pay for tuition costs, books, fees, and living expenses (in the form of a stipend). Preference is given to nursing students enrolled on a full-time basis at an accredited nursing school and who have an EFC at or near $0.
States consider the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the Student Aid Report when selecting recipients for nursing scholarships and grants. While there are some merit scholarships available through state governments, the majority are awarded based on financial need. This makes the Student Aid Report all the more important. Missing the federal deadline for submitting your application can jeopardize your receipt of state financial assistance.
Most nursing schools, particularly those that receive federal dollars, require students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be considered for scholarships based on financial need. Some require it regardless. They use information from your application to create your aid package which may include scholarships, grants, and loans. Following is an example of a nursing school that requires students to complete this document.
Delta State University (Mississippi)
Nursing students enrolled in the Robert E. Smith’s School of Nursing may be eligible for federal financial assistance and scholarships. To be considered students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The resulting financial profile is used by the University to develop a financial aid package for applicants. Students can complete the form online. For additional information, students can contact the Office of Financial Assistance at (662) 846-4670.
Employers that provide scholarships may require applicants to include a copy of their Free Application for Federal Student Aid as part of their application package. This is less common than with other organizations such as foundations. However, students should be prepared to submit the form if the employer is a hospital that is affiliated with a nursing school.
More and more foundations are requiring scholarship applicants submit a copy of their Free Application for Federal Student Aid or their Student Aid Report with their foundation applications to be considered for assistance. By using federally established guidelines for financial need, foundations are able to keep their scholarship processes unbiased and fair. Merit scholarships and grants usually do not require documentation of financial status. Following is an example of a foundation that requires this form as part of its scholarship application process.
Stokes Scholarship Trust
The Trust awards scholarships to nursing students who live in Langdon, New Hampshire. Scholarships are awarded based on academic scores, personal essay, and documented financial need. Applicants are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be considered. Interviews are required for all students. Award amounts vary and are provided in two installments. Applications are typically due to the Trust by the end June annually. For applications and guidelines, students can contact the Trust, c/o Bank of America, N.A., P.O. Box 1802, Providence, RI 02901.
Your FAFSA is a critical tool in your overall financial aid plan. It is important you know what kind of picture the application paints concerning your financial situation. This will help determine the types of scholarships, grants, and loans you seek for your nursing education.