The FAFSA can be a confusing process. Luckily there are a ton of resources that can be helpful to you.
Let’s start with some quick basics for anyone reading who isn’t familiar with FAFSA. First know it is pronounced Phaf-Sa. You’ll hear others call it Phas-fa. I’ve even heard professionals at conferences for the FAFSA pronounce it wrong. Now lets break down the title.
it is free. You should NEVER have to pay for this service. The website is FAFSA.gov
it is simply an application, just like you would fill one out for a job or like the one you did to get into Upward Bound.
you are applying to receive grants and loans from the federal government. Your information is then passed on to the schools you tell them to send it to, and they tell you what they are willing to give you.
The money you are requesting is to go towards your education as a college STUDENT.
the money you receive is to help you, or aid you, in earning your degree.
Alright, now that we’re all up to speed, let’s talk about some of the basic mistakes that can slow the process down. The reason that time is of the essence is because most of the money given out as a result of completing the FAFSA is based on a first come first serve basis. Imagine a Black Friday sale; the first people in line will pick up the item on sale. The people who show up late, might still get a few deals, but they definitely wish they would have shown up earlier. This leads us to mistake #1.
1.) Not completing the FAFSA early enough.
Deadline vary by state. But the FAFSA is not something you want to procrastinate. Some people’s parents haven’t filed their taxes yet, but know that it’s O.K. There is an option while filling it out where you select “Will File”, meaning you plan to file your taxes. Then you can continue to fill out the FAFSA using last years numbers, but you have to make sure to go back in and edit it with the updated information once your parents finish their taxes.
2.)Not responding when you’ve been selected for Verification
If you come from a family with a limited income you will most likely receive a larger amount of Grant money through the state and federal government. Because of this, you are more likely to be selected for something called “Verification”. This is basically the government wanting to double check your information or get more income information to make sure that what you have provided is correct. Notification of this will come by snail mail or email. Make sure to open it immediately and read it carefully. Show your advisor if you need help figuring out what they are looking for. It’s different for everyone selected for verification, so just make sure to read it fully and complete what they ask ASAP.
3.)Entering the Wrong Name
What!? You’d be surprised how many people do this. Through reading articles on the topic this was a common theme. Make sure the name you are giving them is your legal name. No nicknames. No Initials. Whatever name you have on your Social Security Card/Drivers License/Birth Certificate needs to be what you have on your FAFSA.
4.)Not listing enough Colleges
There is a section where you list which colleges you want to receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is the summary of everything you filled out on the FAFSA. Apparently 2/3’s of students only put one college down. Put down EVERY college you’ve applied to or will apply to. The schools don’t see the list. There is nothing lost. You will only be limiting your options if you don’t put a school on the list.
5.) Not getting the FSA ID ahead of time.
The FSA ID is like a signature. Only you know what it is, so at the end of your FAFSA you will “Sign” your name by using the pass code. But what many students don’t know is that it can take up to 3 days for you to be able to sign your FAFSA with it. So make sure to be getting this ahead of time.
6.) Not signing at the end
After filling out the entire thing. The last step is to sign of by entering your FSA ID. Many students forget this part. Maybe you forgot your password and thought “I’ll do it later”. Maybe your parents weren’t there to sign with their FSA ID (Yes they have one, too. Make sure they sign up for one when you do). Whatever the reason, students are waiting to hear from their schools only to find out they never submitted their FAFSA. This can be a huge setback and disheartening for students. So don’t forget to sign your FAFSA at the end.
7.) Not having the information needed
Many students come to a FAFSA event. Energized and motivated to finish the FAFSA. They find out that they aren’t able to answer some of the questions such as “What date were your parents married”. If you can’t get a hold of your parents, there’s nothing to do but wait and finish it later. Which only leaves room for procrastination (because you were so ready to get it done today!). So do a quick google search for “2016 FAFSA Checklist”, and you’ll find that there are tons of free checklists that give great guidance for what to have prepared. Better yet, ask your advisor and we can provide one for you!
So there you have it; 7 of the most common, simple mistakes people make while filling out the FAFSA. If you’re a senior, make sure you’ve completed the FAFSA and made sure you didn’t fall into any of these holes. If you’re in 9th-11th grade, you can’t say we didn’t warn you! Maybe bookmark this page and come back to in when it’s your turn. 😉