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Dear College Made Simple Reader,
For so many families with college-bound students, understanding exactly what the FAFSA is, and how it works, can seem daunting at first.
It is true that the college financial aid formulas are complicated. Our goal, though, is to make it easy, and make it worthwhile.
For starters, every single college-bound student should make use of the FAFSA (which is just the acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.)
Doing so opens the door to federal student loans, grants, and even – in some cases – college work-study programs.
Now let me give you 5 important insights into filling out the FAFSA… including how you can use it to reduce your overall college costs.
#1: File early and on time.
Financial aid is given out on a first come, first serve basis. Those who submit the FAFSA form on time and correctly are placed in the front of the line for any eligible aid.
Priority filing dates vary by state but typically fall around February 15th of the year your student will be filing for aid.
#2: List at least 5 schools on the FAFSA.
The problem with listing only one school? That lone school that receives your FAFSA information sees that you are not applying to other schools.
This gives your (one) school less of an incentive to give your more aid. Make sure and include at least 5 schools on the FAFSA form.
Even better, make sure to include at least several schools that compete for the same type of students.
3: Highlight any unusual circumstances.
After submitting the FAFSA, families should let the colleges know if they have any unusual circumstance. Examples include a layoff, divorce, salary reduction or expensive medical bills.
The college will then determine that the unusual circumstance merits an adjustment, and may revise the student’s award offer. Keep in mind you will need to provide documentation, such as a copy of the layoff notice or unemployment benefits.
By the same token, if you’ve had an unusually good year financially (for example, a large bonus or a lot of overtime pay) you can write to the college’s financial aid office to explain that income was “unusual” and unlikely to recur.
#4: Fill out all additional forms.
For example, many schools use the CSS Profile form as a supplement to the FAFSA. Many times it is to determine non-federal financial aid, such as scholarships and grants.
Keep in mind a few things: it’s very important that you are consistent with your information on all forms. And also know that there is a $25 fee for filling out the CSS (and $16 for each additional school).
#5: Everyone should fill out the FAFSA (even high-income earners).
We see this mistake all the time. Many families think they make too much money – this is very common.
Yet there is money available for kids who don’t qualify for aid. But the only way to prove you don’t qualify for traditional need based aid is through the FAFSA form.
Plus, a family’s financial situation could change and make them eligible for aid. By having the FAFSA already on file, it is very easy to then get a “change of circumstance” form filled out, submitted, and then get a financial aid package based on the new and reduced income number.
To your successful college pursuits,
Publisher, College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of College Planning Network, LLC