Filling out the FAFSA—the free application for federal student aid—is an intimidating process. It seems big and scary, maybe because it can have a huge impact on the costs of college. Before you panic, just know that it’s doable. Somehow every year people manage. This year, it’s your turn. There are ways to succeed at filling out the FAFSA, and ways to stumble. The best thing you can do is proceed with caution, avoiding the pitfalls of those who have gone before you.
Here are 5 common FAFSA mistakes to avoid:
1. Showing up unprepared
Others have gone before you and managed to correctly fill out the FAFSA. The government has heard their complaints and their praises, and they’ve done their best to make the process as painless as possible. One of the solutions is a prep worksheet. The FAFSA can be quick and painless, IF you show up prepared. Use the prep worksheet to know what they will be asking, and in what order. If you’re a student, gathering information from your parents beforehand is going to help you zoom through the web application. It’ll be a relief to not have to wait for your mom to text you back the answers to your many questions. If you’re a parent, getting organized beforehand will help you breeze through what could be a complicated process.
2. Not proofreading
This mistake sort of encompasses all other mistakes—big and small. You’d be surprised how many common mistakes are possible when it comes to the FAFSA. Be sure to read the fine print and the instructions. If you don’t understand a question, ask. It doesn’t take long; on average it takes 23 minutes. That means before you get antsy and rush through the seemingly endless amount of questions be assured that there’s not much longer to go. Take your time and fill it out carefully. After you are done, double-check your answers. Maybe even print a copy and read through it, or ask your parents to. Check things you might not think to check, like the year you are applying for, birthdates and names. Even the smallest mistakes—like using a nickname or leaving blank spaces—can cause a delay in processing your application.
3. Using the paper application
Often the case of paper vs. electronic has pros and cons for both, but not when it comes to the FAFSA. Use the web application. It is tried and true, with built in checks and edits to help avoid the mistakes of common errors. It’ll keep you on track. If you make a mistake on paper, it’s not easy to fix. Using the web application allows for an easier process. You won’t run the risk of having to explain how and why your dog chewed off the corner of page four.
4. Forgetting to save the application!
Now of course if you’re on the computer there’s the risk of technology failing you. Maybe your computer dies, or the WiFi in Starbucks goes out. Be sure to save the application as you work on it. That way when your computer closes all of your browsers you won’t have reason to cry. You can just head back over to the website and keep working.
5. Forgetting to sign and submit
Okay, this is like not writing your name on your paper. Some people do it, and that’s okay. Just don’t be that person. When you finish the FAFSA you’ll be relieved, maybe even relieved enough to not click that final button. Or maybe you’re just so exhausted from that 23 minute marathon you can’t even bear to go any further. Just do it. Print the confirmation that will come after, screenshot the system’s assurance that, yes, you filled it out. You’re done. There’s nothing worse than waiting for aid that will never come, all because you forgot that small final step.
Whether you’re a parent filing for your child, or a student preparing for next fall, like most government websites, the FAFSA is intimidating. The best advice is to stay focused. Read through the questions twice and ask questions. Come prepared, knowing your facts ahead of time. Twenty-three minutes of your life is worth it for the aid you might receive. Mistakes happen, but we can always learn from them.