Over the course of the last several years, more and more college-going students and their families have opted not to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form, although time consuming, is the gateway to financial aid. The most common reason for not completing the form? Assuming you won’t be eligible for final aid. Yet nearly every student who applies for financial aid by completing the FAFSA will receive some form of financial aid!
With Covid-19, more students than ever before will qualify for financial aid because of the virus’ strain on economics. If you—or a member of your family—lost a job, was furloughed or received a cut in pay, the FAFSA will prevent you from paying more for college than you have to. I can’t remember the last time a student asked to pay more tuition, yet that’s what happens when the FAFSA process isn’t done.
Consider these facts from a Sallie Mae-Ipsos report called How America Pays for College 2020:
- Four out of every 10 families did not complete a FAFSA because they believed they would not be eligible for financial aid.
- Other reasons for not completing the FAFSA included missing the deadlines, problems with the application, not knowing about the FAFSA, not having the information needed to complete the form, or simply not having the time to complete it.
- Last year, just 71% of all families completed the FAFSA. That’s down from 77% in the previous year, and down from 83% in the year before that!
- Only 16.3% of high school seniors have completed their FAFSA as a mid-November. That’s down by 16% compared to the previous year!
- Only 66% of families earning under $35,000/year completed the FAFSA last year.
- Only 76% of families earning under between $35,000 – $100,000/year completed the FAFSA last year.
- Only 67% of families earning more than $100,000/year completed the FAFSA last year.
That is a lot of money left on the table! Admittedly, the FAFSA is not the friendliest form—tracking down tax records and bank statements is a hoop to jump through as part of the process.
Keep in mind that students always have the ability to appeal FAFSA-based financial aid decisions to the college or university they are attending. Any change in your economic situation should be immediately brought to the attention of the financial aid team.
And one more reason to jump on this now: The FAFSA can be completed as early as October 1 for the following academic year. Many colleges and universities require that you have a FAFSA on file in order to be eligible for institution-level scholarships. Some financial aid awards are given first come—and are contingent upon completion of the FAFSA. In other words, the early bird gets the juiciest worm!
Hoping that we have enlightened you about of the importance of submitting a FAFSA form, here are some tips that you may find helpful.
- Gather the documents you need. This includes a social security number, driver’s license or identification number, federal tax return forms (for the 2021-2022 application, you need your 2019 tax return); and list of schools you are interested in or already attending.
- Use your legal name—nicknames will result in processing delays that cost you money.
- Create your Federal Student Air (FAS) ID. You’ll need it, along with the password, to complete the application. If parents are providing their information as part of your application, they should create FSAs as well.
- Say yes on the form to all types of financial aid, including work study. This does not obligate you to accept anything. This form is all about establishing your need for aid.
- Do not leave any questions blank. If your answer is 0, write in 0.
- Apply NOW. The first to apply gets the best offers.
Questions related to the FAFSA process should be directed to the Financial Aid Office at the specific college or university you are applying to.