Of all the pieces of the college application puzzle, the FAFSA may be the most dreaded - and the most misunderstood.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the form that stands between students and most financial aid. Perhaps because it requires families to report their income and answer other questions on a government form, I find that many families harbor many myths and misconceptions about the process.
However, you should not let these fallacies deter you from completing this important part of the college application process.
We make too much money. Well, you might be surprised. Although students and families with lower incomes do qualify for more federal aid, there is no cutoff for qualification, and the FAFSA considers other factors in addition to income. These factors include how many children are in the family, the age of the parents and the cost of the college attended. And remember, the FAFSA is also used to determine eligibility for federally backed loans and to distribute state and institutional aid. At pricey private schools, even wealthy families may qualify for assistance. Finally, many scholarships that are not based on income may still require applicants to complete the FAFSA. You don’t know if you’ll get any help unless you try!
We have too much equity in our house. Nope! The FAFSA doesn’t even have a question regarding the amount of equity in your family home.
It is too difficult. Do you manage your household budget? Do you do your own taxes or gather and organize all your financial information to take to the accountant? Can you follow directions? Then you can certainly do the FAFSA. The online form offers detailed, step-by-step instructions, so you simply have to follow along. And if you do get stuck, the FAFSA site offers private chat with a customer service representative while you’re working on the form, or you can ask questions via email or a toll free hotline. All this help is provided free of charge. You do not need to pay a third party to get help filling out the FAFSA, so be careful if you land on a website that wants to charge you for assistance. Remember, it’s the FREE Application for Federal Student Aid!
I did one for my older child last year, so I don’t have to do another one. Sorry, but you must fill out a new FAFSA every year. After all, your finances aren’t exactly the same every year. However, the good news is that much of the information pre-populates on the form in subsequent years, saving you time and effort after the first time you’ve filled out the form.
It doesn’t matter when I turn it in, as long as I beat the deadline. Technically, this one is true. But in reality, much financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Turning it in earlier gets you a better place in line. So, if you’re waiting to finish your taxes before completing the FAFSA, you may want to reconsider. You can complete your FAFSA using estimates, especially if your income is fairly stable from year to year. Just be sure to go back and update your numbers once you have filed your tax return.
It takes too long to finish. Wrong again. It’s estimated that it takes the average person only about 30 minutes to complete the FAFSA. Granted, it may take you longer the first time. And, it’s easier if you are well-prepared and have gathered necessary documents before beginning. But if you get frustrated or run into issues, you can save your work and complete it another time, after you’ve found the right numbers or had time to think through your answers.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 12 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career exploration and the college application process.
Need help completing the FAFSA?
Don’t miss out on FAFSA Super Saturday
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28
Where: Robert E. Lee High School, John Tyler High School, Taylor Auditorium at the Tyler Public Library and the Hispanic Services Center
Information: Contact Fred Peters at SuperSaturday@ethnn.org