By Laura LaVacca
College applications. College essays. Scholarships. Financial Aid. There’s so much to know about the process that it can make anyone overwhelmed.
When it comes to FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, one thing is for sure – every student should apply and they should do so early.
“If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, you’re telling your school you don’t want their financial help,” Rick Castellano, VP of Corporate Communications at Sallie Mae, explains. Regardless of income level, every student should apply. This application is the stepping stone to receive scholarships, grants and Pell Grants. These Pell Grants are provided by the government and do not have to be paid back. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $5,920.
The second thing Castellano warns about is waiting too long to file. The new opening date for applications is October 1st. The former January date has been moved up – which means everyone needs to hop online sooner.
FAFSA’s website walks users through the steps of how to fill out the forms. To do so, families will need tax forms, social security cards and various other documents. Be sure to gather these materials so as not to delay submittal. Often, those who apply sooner get more funds. There are also a number of deadlines to be aware of but the website features a drop down tool in which students can enter their own information to obtain answers about out of state schools, etc.
“I definitely had no clue that applying sooner would make a difference,” senior Brian Miller shares. “I planned on applying this weekend. This whole college process can be overwhelming.”
Furthermore, all applications must be complete and contain no misinformation. This would hold up the process. Castellano also warns against paying to file for FAFSA. “The first F in FAFSA stands for free,” he affirms.
Often local libraries host financial aid information sessions. High school counselors can help walk parents and students through the process as well as the federal government’s official financial aid site.
“We host a financial aid night to inform parents of the process but also to answer the many questions that arise,” New York City School Guidance Counselor, Lysa Cald explains, “Take advantage of all free seminars in your area. Get emails, ask questions, make connections. There a lot of willing and knowledgeable people out there to advise you on this journey.”
Experian’s Reyna Gobel continues to outline other tips in her article “7 Mistakes That Could Cost You Thousands in Federal Student Aid.” Students should make sure that they list the full 10 schools to send their financial aid information to. Don’t just list five, for example. If the student decides later on to add to the incomplete list, funds may not be there any longer. If students fill out the complete 10, those students are put ahead of those who file later–even if they aren’t fully interested in the college at the time.
She also advises listing state schools first. Some schools will give more aid to students who list colleges closer to the top. Although this is not a guarantee, it’s certainly worth a shot. FAFSA’s website offers, “For purposes of federal student aid, it does not matter in what order you list the schools. However, to be considered for state aid, some states require you to list schools in a particular order (for instance, you might need to list a state school first).” The site offers an interactive tool where users can check if their state has such requirements.
Overall, if users are overwhelmed during the process, FAFSA provides many resources from a “Help and Hints” section to “Need Help?” links along the application route. All of which do not close the page you’re working on so no information will be lost during the process. There’s also a live chat button as well as a number to call. In addition, students are always welcome to contact the financial aid office at the college they are most interested in.