Got a question about paying for college? Ask Tira!

Tira Lawhorn, Amador College Connect’s FAFSA expert who meets bi-weekly with students to complete their FAFSA applications, recently answered these questions posed to her about the process of applying for financial aid to attend a post-secondary educational institution.

FAFSA Questions and Answers


Do I need to complete a FAFSA in order to attend college?

The FAFSA is not an application to attend college; it is an application for financial aid. The FAFSA is used by the federal government, state governments, colleges and universities, and some private scholarships to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid. Even if you do not qualify for federal or state financial aid, your school will likely require you to complete the FAFSA when applying for school scholarships; also some private scholarships, not administered by a school, may require a completed FAFSA.

Can I complete the FAFSA at any time?

The annual application cycle starts each October 1 and most institutions and grant-making entities that use FAFSA to determine eligibility for aid have an internal “priority deadline,” usually March 2. FAFSA forms may be filed at any time; however, it is important to file the FAFSA by March 2 to qualify for the greatest amount of aid available for the next academic year.

What level of income makes me eligible for financial aid?

The calculations used to determine one’s eligibility for aid are not public knowledge but they are known to vary based on type of aid. For example, there are many students who qualify for state funding who may not qualify for federal funding.

I was turned down for financial aid last year, is it worth applying again?

Yes, absolutely! There are many unique situations that could qualify a student for financial aid and new funding sources become available all the time. You are encouraged to complete a new FAFSA annually regardless of whether you have been turned down previously. Certainly, if you or your family have experienced a change in circumstances (such as a decrease in household income; a change in household size, legal separation or divorce or your parent no longer claims you as an exemption) you should re-file. You should also report any major life changes like these to your school’s financial aid office so they can determine if your situation qualifies you for additional funding.

I do not live with my parents. Do my parents and I each need to file a FAFSA?

Just because you no longer live with your parents does not mean that you are independent for purposes of filing the FAFSA. For FAFSA purposes, if you are considered “independent,” you are not required to include your parents’ income in your application; this helps you because the lower your income the more aid you may qualify for.

A student is deemed to be “independent” for FAFSA purposes only if he or she falls into any one of the following nine categories: (1) 24 years of age or older; (2) married or separated but not divorced; (3) enrolled in a graduate degree program; (4) have children or other dependents for which they provide at least 50% financial support; (5) a veteran of the U.S. armed forces who was not dishonorably discharged; (6) were in foster care or a ward of the state after the age of 13; (7) parents are deceased; (8) has been declared to be an emancipated minor by a court; or (9) considered homeless or an unsupported youth.

How should I prepare for my appointment to complete the FAFSA?

File for your FAFSA ID in advance. This goes for students and parents that have a dependent child in college (even if they do not live in the same household). Start your FAFSA application by filing for your FAFSA ID at https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm.

What records and documents will I need to complete the FAFSA?

To complete the FAFSA, you will need the most current year’s tax records. Make sure you store your tax documents in a place that is easily accessible. Oftentimes, schools will request verification of the information on your FAFSA and, if so, you will need to request from the IRS a copy of your Tax Transcript, or a “Non-Filers Transcript” if you did not file your taxes the previous year. It is a good idea to go ahead and request these from the IRS so you have them available if asked.

I heard that in California the first year of community college is free. Is that true?

In the past, the Board of Governor’s fee waiver (the “BOG waiver”) granted income- qualifying California residents a full fee waiver (equal to approximately $552 per semester at $46 per unit for a twelve-unit course load). In our Foothill communities about 80% of our residents typically qualified for the BOG waiver.

AB 19, the California College Promise Plan, is the state law advertised as guaranteeing a tuition-free first year of community college for new high school graduates. The money for this new program will be granted to community colleges based on each college’s application to the state. Not all community colleges will meet the eligibility for the funds. Each college will apply for these funds annually in June. Colleges can apply to use the funds in a variety of approved ways; a tuition-free first year for incoming freshman enrolled full-time and attending college for the first time is one of many options open to the colleges. Students are advised to check with the Financial Aid office at the college of their choice to learn how that college has applied to use these funds and whether the funds have been granted.


Tira Lawhorn is available by appointment at Amador College Connect during regular office hours to help students with FAFSA applications and to answer other questions about financing post-secondary education. To make an appointment with Lawhorn to start your FAFSA application, call Amador College Connect at 209-217-8239.