The financial aid application process can get a little hairy—there are a number of forms involved, multiple deadlines to meet, and important details to include. It's easy for little mistakes to occur, and those errors can sometimes be quite costly, in the most literal sense of the word! Luckily, a carefull review of your applications and a good system of organization can help you avoid those application mistakes. And don't forget: the admission and financial aid offices at the colleges and universities you are considering are there to help you in this process, so don't hesitate to call or email them with your questions!
Everyone hates deadlines, but pushing or ignoring financial aid deadlines can be costly. If you are filling out multiple aid applications, it’s also possible to confuse one deadline with another. As you begin each application, make it a point to keep the deadline prominently displayed. (Try using a sticky note so it is always the first thing you see on the application.) The most important deadline is for the FAFSA. Without that form on file, you become ineligible for most financial aid. Also, many sites have filing deadlines for state aid eligibility.
Waiting too long to start the process
If you fail to allow adequate time to research scholarships and complete lengthy application forms, you are more likely to make hasty mistakes and miss sources of funding that could make a difference. Find out what can be done prior to making your college choice and complete those steps as early as possible. (The sooner you fill out financial aid forms, the more aid you'll likely receive.) For example, you can submit FAFSA beginning October 1 and change it later in the year if need be. Once your college selection is made, become familiar with institutional scholarship offers and the deadlines for making applications.
Underestimating the available resources
Every year, some grants and scholarships go unused. The reason: an absence of qualified applicants. Many prospective college students and their parents are quite surprised by the amount of help that is available, but unfortunately some never make this pleasant discovery. Find and apply for opportunities that fit your needs and qualifications. Never assume the competition will be too difficult or the resources too limited.
Paying to submit FAFSA
Be careful using search engines to access the online FAFSA form. You should only use the online form at the federal website fafsa.gov. It’s possible to think you are on a federal website when in fact it is a private business that is presenting the form—a private business that will charge you a fee for submitting the finished product. It’s a free application, after all! You should never pay to submit a completed FAFSA form, nor should you ever pay for assistance in completing the form. Free online help is available.
Failing to answer every question on forms
There’s a reason the FAFSA and other financial aid forms are as exhaustive as they are: Every question is relevant and necessary to get to the end goal of granting you the money you need for college. So don’t skip anything! For some questions on forms like the FAFSA, the correct response will be zero. Be sure to enter a zero rather than simply leaving the space blank. Such blank spaces can result in a rejected form and delays.
Making mistakes on your financial aid applications can completely change the aid package you receive from colleges, so you need to give this part of the process your utmost care and attention to detail. Is it going to feel arduous and time consuming? Maybe. Is it worth it if it helps you get the maximum amount of aid for college you're eligible for? Absolutely.
For more advice to help you get the most financial aid possible, check out The Best Advice and Resources for Filling Out the FAFSA.