Getting a degree can be expensive, but financial assistance for college is available from the U.S. Department of Education in the form of grants, loans and work study programs. These funds can help make your dream of going to college a reality!
In order to qualify for federal student aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—or FAFSA, for short. State financial aid programs and individual colleges also use the FAFSA to distribute aid.
Filling out the FAFSA has confused plenty of students and parents over the years, but don’t let the process frustrate you. Free online help is readily available at the FAFSA website, and we’ve compiled a list of 10 tips to avoid common FAFSA mistakes.
Many families have the misconception that all financial aid is need based. If you’re planning on going to college, even if you’re not sure where you’ll be going to college, make it a point to file the FAFSA. Most students who skip out on the FAFSA would have been eligible for some sort of financial aid.
Financial aid is distributed on a “first come, first served” basis, which is why it’s in your best interest to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible. Although last year’s earnings and tax information is required, you don’t have to wait until you file your income taxes to file your FAFSA. You can estimate your income and tax information from last year and make any necessary corrections when you file your taxes. 2011-2012 state FAFSA deadlines are available here but be sure to check with your school as well. Each college may have a different deadline.
You can still request a paper copy of the FAFSA by calling 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243) but filing online is recommended because it’s faster and easier. You can complete, submit and track your application online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Not only does filing online help you check for possible errors along the way, it will reduce your FAFSA processing time.
Leaving fields blank when filling out the FAFSA is a big no-no. If your answer is “zero” or a question doesn’t apply to you, be sure to write in a number “0” or the words “not applicable.” A FAFSA full of blank spaces can cause your application to be rejected, sending you back to the drawing board.
When entering financial information, do not use decimal points and commas. Always round figures to the nearest dollar.
It’s all-too-easy to accidentally transpose numbers. Double-check your Social Security Number as well as your parents’ if you are a dependent student. Incorrect numbers can cause delays or cause your application to be rejected. Never make up a number!
If you’re a dependent student whose parents are divorced, make sure that the right parent fills out the FAFSA with you. The parent responsible for filling out the form will be the one who has lived with you for most of the year.
When you’re ready to submit your FAFSA, don’t forget to sign it—even if you file online. Paper copies must contain your actual signature, but your Student Aid PIN serves as your electronic signature. It also provides access to your personal records, which is why you should never give your PIN to anyone.
Don’t forget to Make FAFSA Corrections. You can correct any errors you may have noticed and update any information that you estimated after you’ve already filed your FAFSA. Once you submit corrections and receive a confirmation number, your corrected FAFSA will be processed in 3 to 5 days.
FAFSA Help is available on the web, by phone or by email. Most high school guidance offices and college financial aid offices can also provide FAFSA assistance. If you need help filling out your FAFSA, don’t be afraid to ask, but avoid “services” that request money to file the FAFSA for you.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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