Let’s face it: Even “affordable” colleges and universities can still take a lot out of your bank account. So if there is a way to pay for a degree without making a huge dent in savings, why aren’t students doing it? Part of it may be because you don’t believe you will qualify for any financial aid from the government due to your parents’ income. It stopped me, a mistake I hope to keep you from repeating.
As such, there is this federal form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (commonly known as the FAFSA) that can open a lot of doors when it comes to paying for college. In 2014, an estimated 1.5 million high school graduates did not fill out the FAFSA. Some people don’t want to spend the time on it; others don’t finish filling it out before the deadline. There are also some common mistakes made that make a submission incomplete. Here are 7 reasons why you should file the FAFSA come January.
You Will Likely Get Something
Whether it’s a student loan at a lower interest rate, a scholarship, a grant, or a work-study, filing a FAFSA is going to open more opportunities for financial aid. The benefits are huge for families with lower incomes and can be the difference between being able to afford college and not. Pell Grants (a federal source of money that you don’t have to pay back) are awarded based on financial need, college costs, and enrollment status. A rule of thumb is to take the cost of tuition and subtract your family’s contribution. Whatever is left over should be eligible to be fully or partially covered by federal financial aid.
It’s Easy to Fill Out
The FAFSA website provides checklists for applicants to keep track of the many steps. Be sure to read the definitions for everything carefully! If you are still filing as a dependent (most undergraduate students do this when their parents can help with school costs), then you should try and work on it together with your parents. If your parents/guardians are busy, fill out what you can. They should be able to log on separately from you and fill out the relevant information.
Keep in mind that the log-in process has changed in recent years. Both you and your parents will have to create FSA IDs. It can take a little time for these to be sent out, so the earlier you request them, the better.
It Doesn’t Have to Be in One Go
The beauty of FAFSA is that it saves information for a certain number of days. This allows you to start on it early and take breaks if necessary. It also means that you can start it before you or your parents have filed taxes. Don’t be thwarted by the supposed lengthiness!
Some Schools Will Hold Back Acceptance Without a FAFSA
If you know you are going to need financial aid to pay for school, the FAFSA becomes even more important. Schools might withhold an acceptance letter if they don’t see one on record for students who will need aid. They want you to be enrolled and earn your degree. However, if you can’t pay for it out of pocket and don’t seem to have interest in applying for financial aid, they might see you as a potential drop-out. Fill it out as early as you can and send it to all your potential schools to avoid this problem.
You Can Qualify for More Scholarships and Grants if You File the FAFSA
This one is huge. Some university scholarships require demonstrated financial need before they are awarded. A filed FAFSA can also be the reason you get a merit scholarship—if you don’t quite qualify for a need-based scholarship, the school might decide that you’ve earned a merit-based one. Even if you obviously qualify for a merit-based scholarship, having completed the FAFSA might be a requirement for you to receive it. Filing a FAFSA also opens more doors at the national level for financial aid, such as the aforementioned Pell Grant.
It Only Costs Your Time
The FAFSA is completely free. Let me stress that again: It’s called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Not the “Moderately Inexpensive Application for Federal Student Aid.” You are not required to sign up with a credit card or pay a submission fee. So if you are on a site that is telling you to do that, double-check that you are on the official FAFSA website at fafsa.gov. Seriously, there are scam websites. Look out for them.
There’s No Harm in It
There is no harm in applying. It pays to put your name in as many hats as you can, and you can only gain from this particular hat. Even if you don’t get quite as much aid as you had hoped for, something is better than nothing. If it means that you don’t have to take out as large a loan or work as many hours during the school year,
Interested in seeing what financial aid you could be given at a certain school? Use College Raptor’s match tool to enter your information and find out—like the FAFSA, it’s FREE!