As you begin getting ready for college, the financial aid process truly begins after the application and admissions process is finished. Most colleges will not even consider a financial aid offer without having a student and their family fill out the basic financial aid forms.
One of the most important forms that all colleges request is the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is also one of the most dreaded forms by most students, parents and families in general. There are many books, articles and websites that are dedicated to the sole purpose of helping you fill out the FAFSA. There are also plenty of local companies that will charge you a fee of $250 to $750 to help you fill out these forms and file them with your selected colleges.
But if you are reasonably intelligent (as I believe you are) and patient enough to read the directions, these forms are not only manageable, but can be filled out within a couple of hours time. First get all your information gathered as outlined on the FAFSA website, then sit down at your computer and get started.
Mistakes to Avoid:
First, make sure you actually file the form. Some families feel that they will not qualify, so they don’t even file the form. Many colleges will not even consider you for private aid if you do bot file the FAFSA.
Next, especially for your student’s freshman year, file early. Get your taxes done early or use the previous years return. Financial aid for freshman is based to a great extent on the information from the FAFSA. Many colleges follow a first come first served basis when they are handing out financial aid, private endowments and scholarships. So getting the first year in early can save you money.
Never let you child fill out the FAFSA form by themselves. Most of the information is foreign to them so they will either be asking lots of questions, guessing or ignoring information. You want the college to have current and accurate information to use for calculating your financial award.
Never leave an answer blank. If the answer is zero, use a 0, if it is not applicable, write n/a. Always place an answer to each question on the form so there can be no reason for your application to be delayed, flagged or returned as incomplete.
And the final mistake that many families make is to forget to sign their FAFSA. Either with pen and paper or electronically for both the student and parents. If you do not sign the form it will be returned as incomplete.
There are many other tips for reducing your adjusted gross income, reducing FAFSA included assets along with your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and making sure that you do not include assets that you legally do not need to disclose on the form.