Optimize Your Financial Aid: Don’t Leave Money on the Table

Feb 16, 2021 | Education

Dr. Vicki Purslow, author of Cash for College, has presented numerous workshops to assist high school students and their families locate scholarship opportunities. She has 30 years’ experience as a professor and administrator in community colleges and universities and has presented and published numerous research studies on college student enrollment trends. Her other websites include MajoringInBeer.com, Capiche.us and Capiche.wine. You can reach her at vicki@majoringincom.

Want to go to college but worried about the expense? Wondering if there are programs to help cover the cost? Read on to learn about a way to get FREE MONEY from the government to help finance your educational aspirations.

Over the course of the last several years, more and more college-going students and their families have opted not to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form, although time-consuming, is the gateway to financial aid. The most common reason for not completing the form? Assuming you won’t be eligible for financial aid. Yet nearly every student who applies for financial aid by completing the FAFSA will receive some form of financial aid!

With Covid-19, more students than ever before will qualify for financial aid because of the virus’s strain on the economy. If you—or a member of your family—lost a job, was furloughed or received a cut in pay, the FAFSA will prevent you from paying more for college than you have to. I can’t remember the last time a student asked to pay more for tuition, yet that’s what happens when they don’t complete the FAFSA process.

Consider these facts from a Sallie Mae-Ipsos report called How America Pays for College 2020:

  • Four out of every 10 families did not complete a FAFSA because they believed they would not be eligible for financial aid.
  • Other reasons for not completing the FAFSA included missing the deadlines, problems with the application, not knowing about the FAFSA, not having the information needed to complete the form, or simply not having the time to complete it.
  • Last year, just 71% of all families completed the FAFSA. That’s down from 77% in the previous year, and down from 83% in the year before that!
  • Only 16.3% of high school seniors have completed their FAFSA as of mid-November. That’s down by 16% compared to the previous year!
  • Only 66% of families earning under $35,000/year completed the FAFSA last year.
  • Only 76% of families earning under between $35,000 – $100,000/year completed the FAFSA last year.
  • Only 67% of families earning more than $100,000/year completed the FAFSA last year.

That is a lot of money left on the table! Admittedly, the FAFSA is not the friendliest form—tracking down tax records and bank statements is a hoop to jump through as part of the process—but I venture to say that the results will be well worth it!

Keep in mind that should your situation change after completing the FAFSA process that students always have the ability to appeal FAFSA-based financial aid decisions to the college or university they are attending. Any change in your economic situation should be immediately brought to the attention of the financial aid team.

And one more reason to jump on this now: The FAFSA can be completed as early as October 1 for the following academic year although there is no hard and fast deadline. Many colleges and universities require that you have a FAFSA on file in order to be eligible for institution-level scholarships. Some financial aid awards are given first come—and are contingent upon completion of the FAFSA. In other words, the early bird gets the juiciest worm!

Hoping that we have enlightened you about of the importance of submitting a FAFSA form, here are some tips that you may find helpful.

  1. Gather the documents you need ahead of time. This includes the student’s social security number, driver’s license or identification number, federal tax return forms (for the 2021-2022 application, you need your 2019 tax return); and list of schools you are interested in or already attending.
  2. Use your legal name—nicknames will result in processing delays that cost you money.
  3. Create your Federal Student Air (FAS) ID. You’ll need it, along with the password, to complete the application. If parents are providing their information as part of your application, they should create FSAs as well.
  4. Say yes on the form to all types of financial aid, including work-study. This does not obligate you to accept anything. This form is simply about establishing your need for aid.
  5. Do not leave any questions blank. If your answer is 0, write in 0.
  6. Apply NOW. The first to apply gets the best offers.

Questions related to the FAFSA process should be directed to the Financial Aid Office at the specific college or university you are applying to. Wishing you all the best!

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