Regardless of your financial level and whether you’ll be a first-year student or a senior, if you’re planning on going to college next year, you should be filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA opened their application on October 1, and if you haven’t done it yet, make this your top priority—right now. It can be a tedious and intimidating process, but don’t put it off! To make sure you’re getting all the financial aid possible, here are five FAFSA pitfalls you should avoid.
1. Not completing the FAFSA
The biggest mistake you can make is skipping the FAFSA altogether. Some students might think the FAFSA is only there for students with pressing financial needs, but that isn’t true. While income is one of the factors used to determine the amount of aid you’ll receive, the number of children in a family and how many are enrolled in college at the same time is also considered. According to a survey done by the National College Access Network, only 55.6% of high school students file the FAFSA. That number is even less with low-income students. That means more than $24 billion in state, federal, and institutional aid is going unused. By spending a few hours filling out the FAFSA, you could help make college more affordable.
Related: Financial Aid Mistakes Can Cost You
2. Completing the wrong form
The FAFSA can be found on the official government website, fafsa.gov. You should never have to pay or put in credit card information to file the FAFSA. In addition, make sure you are completing the form for the correct year. Even if you are currently enrolled in high school for the 2018–2019 school year, make sure you are selecting the form for the 2019–2020 year (when you will be in college). Otherwise, you won’t qualify for financial aid, regardless of whether or not you filled out everything correctly.
3. Waiting too long to file
By not acting now, you could be missing out on aid from organizations that give out scholarships. Many times, money is doled out on a first-come first served basis, so if you wait too long, the best aid could be gone. Many organizations that give out financial aid tend to have tighter deadlines, so if you file by December, you have a better chance of getting more significant scholarships from various foundations, agencies, or schools. Some state agencies have winter deadlines, so check the FAFSA deadline list found on the US Department of Education’s website.
4. Leaving out schools
If you’ve started to fill out the FAFSA, you might have noticed you can only add 10 schools on the application. Once you’ve received your Student Aid Report (SAR) after submitting, you can send all the information to more schools. But it’s important to note that any school codes you add will replace one of the school codes already listed. Once you make that change, any college removed from the list does not have automatic access to any new information you provide after you removed that college. Your information will not be deleted from the college’s system.
5. Giving up
The application process can be long and difficult for those who are filing for the first time. Completing the FAFSA can have an impact on whether or not you stay enrolled in college. According to the NCAN, high school graduates who file the FAFSA are 63% more likely to enroll in college than those who don’t fill it out.
Related: Do I Have to File the FAFSA?
Even if you think you won’t qualify for much, filling out the FAFSA can only help you. Most students are granted some form of aid, whether it be institutional scholarships, grants, or student loans. There are many options to help you pay for college, but don’t shortchange yourself simply based on assumptions.
Find more advice on college aid and scholarships in our Financial Aid section.