5 Tips on How to Fill Out the FAFSA Form

The Department of Education acknowledges that the volume and type of data required on the FAFSA can be intimidating and daunting for students and families.  The 2009-2010 FAFSA lists 104 questions with another 29 sub questions.  To answer just three of these questions, students must complete three additional worksheets with nearly 40 additional questions.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently stated that, “you basically have to have a Ph.D. to figure that thing out.”

When the Secretary of Education makes a statement like that (when referring to the FAFSA form) you better make sure you and your family are doing everything you can to get this form done correctly and on time.

There is too much at stake to make mistakes.

Last year there was $168.4 billion in financial aid distributed to college students in the form of grants from all sources, Federal Work-Study, federal loans, and federal tax credits and deductions. In addition, students borrowed an estimated $11.9 billion from state and private sources. Of which nearly all was made eligible by filling out the FAFSA form on time and correctly.  To make sure you and your family are avoiding the common mistakes that so many families make we have compiled 5 tips on how to fill out the FAFSA form so you don’t lose any money for college.

#1:  File early and on time. Financial aid is given out on a first come first serve basis. Those who submit the FAFSA form on time and correctly are placed in the front of the line for any eligible aid.   Priority filing dates vary by state but typically fall around February 15th of the year your student will be filing for aid.

#2:  List at least 5 schools. If you only one school on the FAFSA form, then the lone school that receives your FAFSA information sees that you are not applying to another schools. This gives that lone school less of an incentive to give your more aid.  Make sure and include at least 5 schools on the FAFSA form.  Even better, make sure to include at least several schools that compete for the same type of students.  For example, if you are looking at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, than include Purdue, Michigan State, and U. of Virginia.

#3:  Highlight any unusual circumstances. After submitting the FAFSA and receiving a college’s financial aid award, families can appeal to the college to adjust their financial aid based on an unusual circumstance like a layoff, salary reduction or expensive medical bill.  Parents will need to provide documentation, such as a copy of their layoff notice or their unemployment benefits, he says. Should the college determine that the circumstance merits an adjustment, it may offer more aid.
By the same token, parents who had an unusually good year (say, one in which they received a bonus or a lot of overtime pay) can write to the college’s financial aid office to explain that income was unusual and unlikely to recur.

#4:  Fill out all additional forms. This list could include: PROFILE, Institutional, or Verification forms.  These forms are asking for a lot of the same information as the FAFSA. The key here is to be consistent on all the forms. Colleges will compare answers.  Any discrepancies could result in lost aid.

#5:  Everyone should fill out the form, even high-income earners. Way, way, way too many families make this mistake.  Here are some reasons why.  They don’t realize that retirement and home equity is excluded (see mistake #10).  Or they think they make too much money (very common).  A little know fact is that there is money available for kids who don’t qualify for aid. But the only way to prove you don’t qualify for traditional need based aid is through the FAFSA form.

A family’s financial situation could change and make them eligible for aid. By having the FAFSA already on file, it is very easy to then get a “change of circumstance” form filled out, submitted, and then get a financial aid package based on the new and reduced income number.

Until next time,

Scott Weingold
Publisher, CollegeMadeSimple.com

Related Articles:

When FAFSAs Go Bad

FAFSA Frequently Asked Questions

False Information on the FAFSA

How Does FAFSA Determine Eligibility?

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nancy salcedoAugust 21st, 2010 at 8:22 pm

This is a wealth of information. Unfortunately, I don’t think it can help us. My son has enrolled in a private music school as yet unaccredited and therefore ineligible for financial aid, and even income tax credits and deductions!

ralph laurenSeptember 6th, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!
You have a way with words, but remember by and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth
Sent from my iPad 4G

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by CollegeStats.org.  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News, TheStreet.com, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.