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Mistakes to Avoid When Filling out the FAFSA for College

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Let’s start off by telling you what the letters in “FAFSA” stand for. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Its job is to guide students through paying for college and everything that’s related to financial aid. FAFSA is important in two ways. One, the U.S Department of Education uses FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal student aid that includes loans, grants, and work study. Two, the FAFSA may also determine your eligibility for state and school aid as well.

Some benefits for filing the FAFSA early is that it can give you a better chance at more state and school aid, especially with schools and states that have a limited amount. Also, schools and states have various deadlines for when the FAFSA is due. You should complete the FASFA early so distractions like work, family problems, homework and chores won’t get in your way.

After your FAFSA is submitted, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy, which is just a summary of what you submitted given back to you. This will also be sent to the colleges you selected to determine your financial aid package and what fits best for you.

It’s best to fill out your FASFA on a laptop or computer. You probably won’t be able to complete this task on your mobile phone. You also want someone you know well or trust to help you do this. For example you can ask help from a college student who has filled out the FAFSA before or an adult who can help you figure out the challenging tax language in the form. You will need your parent/guardian’s income tax information along with birth information that includes your Social Security number, hometown, certificate, age, birth date, and income tax information. You will also have to answer a series of questions that determine whether you are a dependent or independent student for purposes of applying for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA form should take you about an hour to complete. It may seem like a long time, but it’s up to you to manage your time well.

After completing FAFSA, you should ask yourself questions like: Did I input the right information? Did I trust the right person to help me complete it? Did I finish it by the deadline? Did I complete it for the correct school year?

There are many challenges in completing the FAFSA Application. Some of these include:

  1. If you don’t complete the FAFSA form, then you will have no clue on how to pay for college.
  2. If you use an incorrect website, then you will not reap the benefits of filing a FAFSA form and may give important information to a scam.
  3. If you don’t file the FAFSA form as soon as it’s available, you’ll be too late to get financial aid.
  4. If you don’t file the FAFSA form by the deadline provided by your college, you will lose your chance on getting financial aid for your college.
  5. If you don’t get an FSA ID before filling out the FAFSA form, you will have to wait three days to sign your FAFSA electronically and you may not be able submit it in time.
  6. If you don’t use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, you may input your tax information incorrectly.
  7. If you input incorrect information, it may prolong the process of receiving your financial package.
  8. If you only list one college, you miss out on other colleges that could have been better or if you end up changing your mind.

As you can see, you can make plenty of mistakes. I avoided these mistakes by having someone I trust by my side to guide me through this process. You can overcome simple mistakes by paying close attention to the questions you are answering and providing the correct information.

I was nervous and worried during and after completing the form. Looking back after finishing it, FAFSA wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be, but it was intense. FAFSA can be as easy as you make it, but you have to be very careful and not zoom through it in 10 minutes, unless you truly know what you’re doing. You don’t want to do FAFSA alone because there will be many questions on that application that you won’t know anything about. So, have someone you trust, such as a parent or guardian, by your side to help you with those situations. Good luck!

Taronjah, 19, contributed this piece as a Leap Year fellow through partnership with VOX. He is pursuing an acting career.

Photo by Taronjah “Ty” Scudder

The deadline to turn in your FAFSA form for financial aid this year is June 30, 2018. Also be sure to check with your prospective college’s financial aid department for more information.

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