Getting a jump start on financial aid and scholarship applications is wise as some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, and both institutional and external scholarship and grant program applications often require that the FAFSA be submitted in order for you to be considered for the award.
The process of submitting data for tax records and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is being streamlined by the government agencies involved. As a result, you will have the option to allow tax information filed electronically to populate parts of your FAFSA. Plan to file your taxes about three weeks prior to completing the FAFSA. This will allow the option for the information submitted on the tax forms to populate the FAFSA. So a good plan to follow near the end of January or as soon as you are able would be:
1. Electronically file your tax returns.
2. Electronically submit the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is filled out once per school year. It uses your family's financial information to calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC can range from $0 to $99,999, but it is somewhat of a misnomer. Instead of the amount you are expected to pay, think of it as an index or budgeting number that is used to determine eligibility for federal, state, institutional, and other forms of financial assistance, including grants, scholarships, and loans. Your EFC will remain the same regardless of which school you attend even though your awarding eligibility will be different at each school. You are NOT obligated to accept financial aid awards, so all FAFSA-eligible students are strongly encouraged to file the FAFSA every year they plan to enroll in one or more classes as a degree-seeking student.
Dependency is determined by the FAFSA or may be overridden by using Professional Judgment (detailed below). If you are Dependent you will need to file the FAFSA with both student and parent information (including step-parents). If you are Independent you will need to file the FAFSA with only student information (if unmarried) or both student and spouse information (if married). The FAFSA application will ask you a list of Yes/No questions to determine your FAFSA dependency. Since the FAFSA is filed each year and each year's dependency rules change according to federal regulations, your dependency status may change sometime during your college enrollment.
The earlier you file a FAFSA, the more likely you are to be awarded the best possible financial aid package. You cannot file your FAFSA earlier than the January 1 prior to the fall semester of the school year. However, you should file your FAFSA as early as possible once you have received your W-2s and filed taxes. If you electronically file your taxes with the IRS, you will be able to automatically import your tax information into your FAFSA approximately 3 weeks later. This will ensure the information you provide the government is as accurate as possible. You may also file FAFSA with estimated financial information in order to meet FAFSA deadlines. If you estimate your FAFSA, you should update it with actual information once your taxes are completed.
For priority consideration for all types of financial aid, you should file your FAFSA as soon as possible. Visit FAFSA Deadlines to see your state's filing deadline for state grant eligibility. For priority consideration of institutional aid, ORU recommends that you file your FAFSA before March 1. Additionally, you should resolve to complete your financial aid file as soon as possible, whether you have to submit documents for Verification or simply have to accept or decline your awards. Complete your FAFSA today by visiting www.FAFSA.ed.gov. ORU's FAFSA School Code is 003985.
Students should check their ORU e-mail regularly for information concerning their financial aid account. The Financial Aid Office sends electronic notices concerning outstanding requirements, scholarship and other award eligibility, aid adjustments, and disbursement notifications. It is the student's responsibility to make sure that ORU has their current contact information on file at all times. ORU e-mail accounts are setup using http://vision.oru.edu and are accessible at http://mail.oru.edu. ORU e-mail accounts are the primary form of written communication from the Financial Aid Office.
Some students have their FAFSA applications selected for a process called Verification. Students are selected by the Department of Education or by the school. Common reasons to be selected include reporting unlikely FAFSA information (e.g. taxes paid amount equals adjusted gross income amount), significant changes of FAFSA information compared to a prior year's FAFSA, or being selected at random.
If selected for Verification as a Dependent student, you and your parent(s) will be required to submit Verification documentation. If selected as an Independent student, you (and your spouse, if married) will need to submit the documentation. Required Verification documentation depends on the information you provide on your FAFSA application. The easiest way to avoid falling into verification is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool provided on the FAFSA application. This tool allows you to connect to the IRS website and upload your tax information quickly and safely. If you were able to use the tool, but did not elect to use that option, you can go back into your online FAFSA form and make a correction to import the information. If you do so and the transfer is successful, you will be exempt from submitting your tax transcripts, should they be required. If you elect not to use the IRS import option (or were not eligible to use it) and are selected for verification, the Financial aid office will need you to contact the IRS and obtain a copy of your official tax transcripts, and other documentation as requested for your situation. However, not all students in verification will be required to submit a copy of their tax transcripts, so you should continually check your vision account for requirements, and not turn in anything that is not requested. Photocopies/scans of tax returns are no longer considered acceptable documentation as the federal government is now requiring official tax transcripts. Once all documentation is received and reviewed, any differences between your FAFSA application and your Verification documentation will be changed to match the Verification documentation. Often, Verification ends up changing a student's award eligibility, including awards with priority consideration (i.e. limited funding), so it is highly recommended that you complete Verification as soon as possible after being selected. For more information on Verification, visit the Verification FAQs page.
If selected, your http://vision.oru.edu account will list your specific requirements. Some requirements include links to ORU instructions and required forms.
The FAFSA uses a past year's financial data because it is easily verifiable (e.g. taxes and W-2s). However, sometimes changes in employment, marital status, or health can make past financial data become outdated for the purpose of estimating current year financial data. Professional Judgment (PJ) may be utilized for special circumstances that the FAFSA does not take into consideration. For example, loss of income, high medical bills, and family situations. Professional Judgment is the process of having the ORU Financial Aid Office override FAFSA data for federally-approved situations using reasonable methods for adjusting the FAFSA data inputs. No changes are made to the FAFSA's EFC formula.
Professional Judgment is also used for students who are considered Dependent by FAFSA but have unusual family circumstances that allow the ORU Financial Aid Office to determine the student is Independent for FAFSA. Common Dependency Override situations include abusive parents, incapacitated parents, and other sensitive family situations. Full documentation is required for all approved PJ Petitions.
Professional Judgment Petitions can only be obtained after first submitting a FAFSA for the applicable school year, even if the FAFSA will be unofficial or rejected as a result of not having a Dependency Override processed yet, for example. If your EFC is already $0, only a Dependency Override PJ Petition would be considered. Also, any PJ Petition for the fall semester should be fully documented before the end of June. The further after June that a PJ situation occurs, the less likely it will be considered for the current school year. However, the financial situation may be accounted for on a following year's FAFSA.
If you have already submitted your FAFSA, you may inquire about your eligibility for Professional Judgment by e-mailing the Financial Aid Office. or visit the Student Service Group located in the Financial Aid Office. You will be sent a form to complete for requesting additional funds, and you should try to include as much detail as possible in the form. Once you submit the form, your information will be reviewed and the Financial Aid Office will reply with instructions of how to proceed with the PJ Petition or that your situation is not eligible for Professional Judgment.