Here at College Parents of America, we don’t subscribe to the FAFSA just being about setting aside an hour to fill out one form. The following mistakes you shouldn’t make involve everything from failing to research schools to not filling out the form fast enough. These mistakes that could be avoiding relatively easily could cost you up to thousands in financial aid.
Here are 11 of the biggest mistakes we recommend avoiding:
1. Not filling out the FAFSA form early enough.
Your student should spend time picking out schools, etc., but you may miss out on some scholarships or financial aid by not being one of the first in line. Fill out the FAFSA on absolutely the earliest date you can. However, put state schools first incase your state has a rule that they will prioritize aid to those who put state schools first.
2. Not filling out the renewal FAFSA fast enough or at all
The renewal FAFSA is the form you fill out after the first year of college. Often, families think you don’t have to fill out the FAFSA after the first year. Wrong. You fill it out every year. And make sure you change the school if your student is transferring or add the new school if they are just considering transferring. Otherwise, the second school won’t evaluate your student for financial aid.
3. Not considering all four years
Especially since the FAFSA is about to change in the 2024 / 2025 year, you want to make sure you’re planning for all four years. Contact school financial aid offices and high school counselors about how aid may change in future years. Don’t give up if someone says they don’t know in the financial aid office how the future changes will affect you. Ask for a supervisor.
The two biggest groups of people that will be affected by FAFSA changes are divorced families where the non custodial parent makes more money and families with multiple students in college at once.
4. Not selecting any private schools.
The FAFSA form lets you select up to 10 schools. Some of these schools should be private schools your student’s high school counselor found that offers significant financial aid.
“Families with limited means might conclude that attending their local public college is best because the Cost of Attendance (Tuition + Room and Board + Fees etc) is much lower than at private schools,” says Robert Falcon, founder of College Solutions. “For low income families with students who have great grades and/or test scores, private schools that meet over 80% of need are often cheaper overall than your in-state public college.”
5. Not filling out the form because you think your son or daughter will get merit aid.
The FAFSA is the first step in receiving any kind of aid. If you don’t fill it out, schools don’t know you want money for school at all. Thus, you won’t get merit aid either. Second, many ivy League and top schools only give out need-based scholarships. The reason? All their applicants that gain admission are at the top of their class academically.
Second, if you do want merit aid, the student should talk to their high school counselor about who offers it and check collegedata.com to see what schools your son or daughter would be in the top 20% of applicants. Then, call those schools to see if they offer merit aid at all.
6. Not changing your school list as you narrow down school choices.
The 10 schools you name on the form are changeable. If in November, December, or even later, your student decides to check to see what another school would offer them in student aid, they can change one of the schools. Just don’t delete a school they are still considering.
7. Thinking you don’t qualify for student aid.
Almost every student qualifies for federal student loans that aren’t income-based. In addition, too many families believe they won’t qualify for any grants or scholarships because of their income level. University and state grants may be available to students from a much larger range of income than Pell Grant eligibility works for.
8. Accepting all Parent PLUS loans you’re offered.
Parent PLUS loans are given to parents to make up the difference between the cost of attendance and what students borrow or are given in grants and scholarships themselves. The problem is that the money is awarded isn’t based on credit or the income of the parent. Families can borrow potentially $200,000 when the real answer is either a cheaper school or applying for more private or school financial aid.
“Parents (like this guy) who take out > $200,000 in Parental PLUS loans because they think it is the only way “to get their kids through,” says Falcon. “ Rubbish! The Dale-Krueger study proved that with certain exceptions, where you attend college will not affect your income 5 year post-graduation. It may affect who hires you out of college, but in the long run, it will be your performance in the workplace that gets you those prized bonuses and promotions. Parents should not carry 6-digit student loan debt into retirement on behalf of their kids as it is unnecessary.”
9. Forgetting about the CSS Profile
Many private and some public schools require a second form in addition to the FAFSA called the CSS Profile. This is a more thorough form than fAFSA that asks for a lot more information such as private school expenses for younger siblings and family medical expenses. Schools asking these questions generally have more to offer.
There is a fee for filling out the CSS Profile, but families that can’t afford it may get a fee waiver. The requirements for the waiver are similar to the SAT waiver requirements. To find out if a school your student considers a CSS Profile school, ask the college’s financial aid office. When you’re ready to apply, the information can be shared with several Profile schools.
10. Not filling out additional forms
Everything from state scholarships and grants to university scholarships and grants may require additional forms. At the end of the FAFSA form process, don’t exit pop up and final screens before reading them. Check state websites for scholarships and grants, and well as have the student call the school about additional scholarship and grant information and options.
11. Not signing the form.
Forgetting small details on the FAFA can hold up your form from getting processed. Before you click to turn the form in, double check that all questions are answered. It’s very common for families to forget to answer a question, mis answer one, or even think they finished and then clicked to close it before the submission was processed. if you think you missed a question, you can always go back. Remember, everyone required to submit financial information needs to do so via their own FSA ID. So make sure the required parent has also filled out their portion of the FAFSA.
Filling out the FAFSA is an important part of paying for college. Don’t assume you don’t qualify for financial aid because of income level. You may get surprised with university grants or scholarships. Double check that you provided all information requested. Then, don’t stop there. Have the student contact colleges to find out about additional forms for scholarships and grants. An hour or two of time may save you hundreds to thousands on the price of college.