If the idea of paying for college is putting you into a cold sweat, take one important step to get free money: Complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You may be eligible for some of the $160 billion that’s granted in federal and state loans and grants each year through the FAFSA. In addition, many universities use your FAFSA data to determine if you qualify for scholarships and other aid.
Unfortunately, some students don’t bother to fill out the FAFSA because they mistakenly believe it’s too cumbersome or that they won’t qualify for aid. In reality, they’re often leaving a great deal of money on the table because of common myths about the FAFSA. So, let’s start by debunking misconceptions about the FAFSA.
Top Myths About the FAFSA
Myth #1: You don’t have the grades to qualify.
Most federal financial aid programs don’t take your grades into consideration when determining the amount of aid you are eligible to receive, but you do need to maintain satisfactory academic progress while in college to continue to receive aid.
Myth #2: Your family makes too much money to qualify.
While federal financial aid considers income, it isn’t the only factor. Your eligibility is also based on other factors, such as assets and the number of children in college. In addition, many aid packages from universities are based on your academic or other achievements, not based on how much money you and your parents make.
Myth #3: You’re too old to get financial aid.
There’s no age cutoff for financial aid. Students of all ages are eligible.
Myth #4: It’s a pain to complete.
Happily, the U.S. Department of Education has simplified the online FAFSA form. On average, it takes less than an hour to complete.
Myth #5: You haven’t been admitted to a college yet, so why bother worrying about financial aid until you know if you’re admitted.
Don’t wait to fill out the FAFSA. Many financial aid programs are on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll want to complete the FAFSA as early as possible to maximize the amount of money you’re eligible for.
Myth #6: You’ll use “last year’s” tax information when filling out the FAFSA.
This used to be true before the 2017-2018 FAFSA changes went into effect. Now, you are required to use tax information from the “prior, prior year.” Read about the FAFSA changes and their impact on required tax information here.
Myth #7: The FAFSA only helps with grants.
Not so. Completing the FAFSA gives you access to a range of financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.
Myth #8: I was turned down for aid before.
If you or your parent’s financial circumstances have changed, contact the financial aid office at the school you’d like to attend. Most schools have an appeals process that will allow you to have your FAFSA reviewed based on those changes.
Myth #9: You’re expecting to receive a scholarship, so you don’t need other aid.
Not so fast! The majority of scholarships do not cover the full cost of attending school, including room and board, books, and other expenses. Even so-called “full-ride scholarships” are offered from year to year and don’t guarantee full support for your entire time in school.
When it comes time to fill out the FAFSA, don’t fall prey to these myths. When you’re ready to fill out the FAFSA, take a look at these tips to maximize your eligibility and avoid these common errors.
For more information on the FAFSA, check out “What’s the FAFSA and why is it important?”
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