The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, isn’t difficult to fill out, but certain errors could have a big impact on your eligibility for financial aid.
Here are 11 mistakes to avoid.
1. Not filling out the FAFSA
Before you throw all your college savings at first year's tuition, fill out the FAFSA!
The information is used for more than qualifying for student loans. You could lose out on federal grants, state grants, or need-based scholarships. The extra money you receive may eliminate or reduce future borrowing.
In fact, financial aid administrators tell us that failing to fill out the FAFSA is the #1 mistake you can make when applying for college.
See also: How Does FAFSA Work?
2. Forgetting your School Code
The FAFSA form provides your financial information to schools, but it can’t do so if you haven’t named the schools you're considering. Include all the schools you're applying to, up to the ten school limit. Look up the codes for your schools here.
List schools from your state first, in case your state cares about the order of their placement on your FAFSA application. If school choices change after you fill out the form, simply log back in to add or delete schools.
3. Closing the confirmation page before reading it
When you finish filling out the FAFSA, you'll be happy to be done. But make sure you're really done.
Read the confirmation page for additional information, such as scholarships available and links for applying for state-based aid. For instance, the New York state application for their state schools' Tuition Assistance Program grant is linked from the confirmation page. Forgetting this click could cost a family over $5,000.
See also: What Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?
4. Ending your financial aid search with the FAFSA
Here are three of the best things you can do to pay for college while incurring the least amount of debt:
- First, speak with your high school counselors. They can tell you about local and national scholarships you might qualify for.
- Second, speak to college financial aid counselors at the schools you're applying to. They will provide you with info regarding scholarships specific to majors or even your talents.
- Look for scholarships on your own. There are so many out there that you can't assume your high school or college will know about all the scholarships that you may eligible for. Check out the Nitro scholarship database to get started.
5. Not filling out special circumstances forms
Family financial situations change. If your or your family's income has decreased dramatically for any reason since the tax year reported on the FAFSA, you’ll want to tell the school you've chosen.
To do this, detail your situation in a special circumstances form, available from the institution. This may help open up need-based aid previously unavailable to the student.
6. Filing the FAFSA too late
Some aid is dispersed on a first-come, first-serve basis. The longer you wait, the less likely you'll be to get a slice of the aid pie.
Be sure to fill out the FAFSA as close to October 1 as you can.
7. Including your parent's income when you don't have to
The difference between filing the FAFSA as a dependent or an independent student is big. When you file as a dependent, your FAFSA must include not only your own income, but the income of your parents. For need-based aid, this could mean the difference between qualifying or not.
It's not just independent students who should double check. Dependent students whose parents are divorced won't need to declare both incomes. Likewise, unless you've been legally adopted, you would not need to declare the income of a grandparent or other guardian. Make sure to carefully read the rules before you submit your FAFSA.
8. Overstating previous studies
Some students misunderstand a question that asks if you have a bachelor's degree. If you have taken classes but have not yet graduated, you should answer this question "no."
Undergraduate students who answer this question incorrectly by selecting "yes" will disqualify themselves from most aid. Only select "yes" if you have received your degree or if you are applying for aid as a graduate student.
9. Leaving off other students in your household
Is your parent or sibling also attending school? Make sure to include that information in Question #96. If your household's income is supporting more than one student, the federal government will take that into account when deciding how much is a reasonable expected financial contribution, or EFC, for your family.
10. Using the wrong income
Overstating or understating your household income can cause headaches down the road. If you note too much for your income, for example, by using the wrong income from your tax return, you could unnecessarily disqualify yourself for some types of aid. Likewise, declaring certain assets, such as retirement accounts or homes, as investments can artificially boost your EFC and reduce your eligibility for aid.
11. Forgetting to sign your FAFSA
After you've completed all of the questions, you still need to officially sign your FAFSA in order to submit it to the Department of Education. To do so, you'll need a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. Sometimes it can take a few days to set up your ID, so don't wait until the last minute to get started.
In general, with the FAFSA, it's important to take your time, read as much as you can, and be 100% sure about your answers before you submit your form.
Check out our step-by-step guide to filling out the FAFSA to make the process easier.