How Students Can Get Free Money: Tips on the FAFSA
The FAFSA deadline is almost here, and high school graduates are preparing for the next four years of their life. According to data from the Department of Education, 25% of FAFSA forms are abandoned mid-process because of confusion, meaning billions of free dollars are left up for grabs.
Here are a few reasons why the FAFSA is so important to fill out, and tips so you can maximize your free money:
Why It’s Important
While college is expensive, filling out the FAFSA is a way to receive free money to fund your education, making it an important part of your college process. Most students who fill out the FAFSA receive some type of financial aid, with more than $150 billion grants, funds, loans and state-based aid up for grabs. Filling out the FAFSA can set you up for a financial future filled with success.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- One of the biggest mistakes is not filing the FAFSA at all, simply because you don’t think you’ll qualify for any Financial Aid. It’s worth taking the time to fill out the necessary information.
- Not filing early enough to qualify for grants and college scholarships available based on income. Each state and school sets its own deadline for the FAFSA, but some are very early. However, students who typically file the FAFSA within the first three months receive more than twice as much grant funding than students who file later. Many programs have limited funding, so money is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Not amending the FAFSA due to significant life changes (i.e., job loss, increase of dependents). If you’ve had a serious financial change if your life, it’s important to notate this and update your FAFSA form. This can make you eligible for more money. Be sure to speak with your school’s financial aid office if this applies to you.
- Filling out the wrong parent information. While some parents will fill out the FAFSA for their children, first generation students and many others are often left to handle such an important document on their own. The language the form uses can also be confusing. When it refers to “you” or “your,” it’s referring to the student (you) but will specify when it needs your parents’ information.
- Not being prepared. You’ll need more than just your brain for the FAFSA. The form requires documents such as your social security card information, tax returns, W-2, etc. If you’re a dependent, you’ll need all this information from your parents and even more such as bank statements, assets etc. You should also create an FSA ID so you can access your document, sign it and correct your information if needed.
Tips for Filling out the FAFSA
- Fill it out as early as possible. While this might be a reiteration, it’s an important tip. The FAFSA typically opens October 1 (although this coming year it will be opening in December). Fill out the form as soon as possible so you can have access to the most money and won’t miss any important deadlines, whether state or federal.
- Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This can help save you so much time and help avoid filing errors. It’s going to be your best friend when it comes to inputting tax return information in your FAFSA form.
- Ask questions. If you’re unsure of the information you’re putting in in the form, you can always ask employees at the Federal Student Aid Center who are happy to answer your questions about programs and the application process. You can also contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend if you know what college you plan on going to.
Filling out the FAFSA can sound very intimidating, and you might have a few bumps in the road along the way. But the most important thing to remember is that everyone has questions and confusion when it comes to the FAFSA. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and start sooner rather than later when it comes to filling out the form. Even if you think you won’t receive money, it can’t hurt to take the time to fill out the form and see what you could be eligible for.