Understanding FAFSA as an Adult Student

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By: Kim Myerson, financial aid administrator, Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies  Friday, July 23, 2021 03:00 PM

Financial aid isn’t just for undergraduates. Adult learners often find that they qualify for federal or state loans or grants that can help them pay for their degree. 

Yet diving into financial aid sometimes creates confusion for adult students. If you went through the financial aid process previously as either an undergraduate student or as a parent with your children, you’ll find that the process is slightly different for an adult student. 

And then there’s the words you’ll find in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form itself. According to a study of 813 adult learners conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin in fall 2018, 37.3% of students found FAFSA jargon—such as “FAFSA” “entrance counseling” and “master promissory note”—confusing.

Our goal at the Office of Financial Aid is to help as many adult students as possible afford a Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies education. So, let’s start with some helpful hints for completing the FAFSA, explore the financial aid process for adult learners, and help you understand some of the most common tricky terms.

When should I start with FAFSA?

The best time to fill out the FAFSA form is when you’re thinking about returning to college. Ideally, start a couple months before you plan to enroll. 

Anyone can fill out the FAFSA form, no matter their income level. Aid is based on need, and there is no age limit. But you won’t know if you qualify for aid unless you fill out the form. Doing so is free.

What information should I have handy before I start the FAFSA form?

The FAFSA form can take as long as an hour to complete, but if you have the right information at your fingertips, you can do it in as little as 15 minutes. You’ll want to have:

  • Your federal income tax return. FAFSA asks for federal tax information from two years ago, so in 2021, the form will ask for your 2019 federal tax return data.
  • A summary of your assets.
  • The names of the schools where you expect to apply. You can list up to 10 schools. Doing so allows Muhlenberg College’s Office of Financial Aid (and the financial aid offices of other schools you choose) to access your FAFSA form.

 Another time-saver: When prompted, use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. By doing so, your tax information will be uploaded into the FAFSA form automatically. This will save you lots of manual data entry and help ensure accuracy.

Be sure to review all your information on the final screen of the FAFSA form. You can go back in and make corrections at any time. If you have questions while you fill out the form, look for a question mark icon on the page. Clicking or tapping on that icon will give you answers to many commonly asked questions.

What happens after I submit my FAFSA form?

 Once you submit the form, reach out to the financial aid office(s) of your chosen college(s) to confirm that they received it and to see if they have any questions.

There is no “Mr. FAFSA.” That is, FAFSA won’t tell you how much aid you may qualify for. That information comes from each school’s financial aid office. At Muhlenberg College, we’ll tell you how much aid you’re eligible for based on the cost of attendance. You also can keep track of your financial aid by signing up for our Financial Aid Portal. Keep in mind, you don’t have to take the entire amount you’re offered. We encourage students to only borrow as much as they truly need.

 What happens if I choose to accept all or a portion of my financial aid?

 Before you can receive the funds, you must log back into the StudentAid.gov portal and complete these two things:

  • A master promissory note. This takes just 5 minutes. The note explains the terms and conditions of your loan and asks you to promise that you’ll repay the loans and any accrued interest and fees to the United States Department of Education. It also asks you to enter two references who can locate you should your address change during the terms of the loan. 
  • Entrance counseling. This takes 15 minutes. It’s set up like a quiz, but don’t worry—there are no wrong answers. You’ll flip through five sections: Understand Your Loan; Manage Your Spending; Plan to Repay; Avoid Default; and Finances: A Priority. Click on every drop-down arrow and answer all questions.

 What if I have more questions about financial aid as an adult learner?

 Reach out to me at any time. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about financial aid at Muhlenberg College or other schools. You also can find a list of Frequently Asked Questions here. And these videos explain the master promissory note, entrance counseling and other financial aid facts in a bit more detail. 

Interested in learning more about the Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies?

Set up an appointment with a Graduate Studies advisor.

Set up an appointment with a Continuing Studies advisor.

About the Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies
For more than 100 years, Muhlenberg College’s School of Continuing Studies has provided lifelong learners the opportunity to continue and enhance their education in ways that recognize their experience, maturity, motivation, life circumstances and capacity for independent scholarship. Through a rich variety of certificates and baccalaureate degrees, the School of Continuing Studies aligns a rigorous, high-quality and student-centric curriculum with the needs and trends of our regional economy.