When it comes time to apply for schools, you will also find it is time to apply for financial aid. If you have never applied before, you need to fill out the FAFSA, which is a free application that evaluates your need for financial aid and estimates the loan amount you can receive based on your situation and the cost of attendance at your school.
It is important that you do not skip the step of filling out the FAFSA. Below, we will go over some tips to help you fill it out the best way possible.
File in Time
The key to the FAFSA is that you want to file on time and early. There is a deadline that you are supposed to have your application in by and you want to stick to that deadline. While you can fill out the FAFSA past this date, it is not recommended.
The FAFSA does take time to process and if you file too late, you may not receive the funds or be approved for funds until after school has already started.
In addition, the FAFSA will evaluate your need for financial aid assistance in the form of grants. Some schools will only hand out money on a first come first served basis, which means if you file too late and qualify, but no money is available, you lose out.
Do Not Leave Blanks
If you file your FAFSA early, but you do not fill it out in its entirety, you will run into problems. It is important that you fill out the application and then look it over for any inaccuracies or missed boxes. You do not want to leave anything blank, as your application will be bounced back to you and you will then have to refile.
If there is a box that requires input, but it does not apply to you, either place “N/A” in the box or put a “0” for any monetary or numerical boxes.
Explain Your Circumstances
One thing you will notice is that the FAFSA does NOT have any boxes on it for you to type a message or explain a situation. This can hurt you in the end, especially if you are unable to explain something important.
If your situation calls for an explanation, you should write a letter and explain those circumstances. For example, maybe this is your first year applying and you are considered a dependent student. Your parents’ income will be evaluated and taken into consideration. Maybe your parents made $100,000 combined last year, but they both lost their jobs. The FAFSA may say you are not qualified for aid or it reduces the amount you can borrow based on the income. You would want to write a letter in this situation and explain both of your parents are now unemployed.
While the FAFSA can be very helpful, it can hinder you, especially when you cannot explain your side.
Don’t Expect the Max and Appeal a Bad Decision
You never want to assume that you will receive the max amount of aid because you likely will not. If you do happen to receive a package that is disappointing, you should appeal the decision and supply any documentation to support your claims.
Pay Down Debt BEFORE Applying
If you have a hefty savings account in place, consider using that money to pay off some of your outstanding debt. A hefty account balance will net you less on the aid front and for good reason too. Because, let’s face it – if you have $20k in the bank, you can use some of it for school.
NEVER EVER lie on your FAFSA application. This will only end badly for you and may make you ineligible to apply for aid later on down the road. Do not be afraid of your income and don’t lie about it. We cannot say this enough. Remember, your information can be verified.
If you are planning on going to college, make sure to fill out your FAFSA and keep the above tips in mind to help you fill it out. If you are having any trouble or need advice, talk to your college financial aid counselor.