This is the printed version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) but college counselor Lisa Micele recommends filling it out online, since the program catches possible mistakes. (btreenews/Flickr)
Wading through financial aid forms can be a huge burden on parents and students alike. Lisa Micele, director of college counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with tips and tricks on navigating that complicated world, starting with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
FAFSA Do’s And Don’ts From Lisa Micele
Things to do:
- If you haven’t already done so, create your FAFSA ID.
- Review the pre-application worksheet to make certain that you have all of the information you need to complete the FAFSA correctly.
- APPLY NOW! The FAFSA launched January 1 – and most colleges have early deadlines for preferential aid packaging. (Great news: This will change next year with early access to form in October.)
- Remember that the STUDENT is completing this form as the main applicant. There is a separate section for parent information. Too often the parent may take the lead and get confused. (The student section is orange; parent section is purple.)
- Use the online version of the FAFSA if you can. While there is a hard-copy print version, the online tool is user-friendly and has “edit checks” to help prevent errors along with “skip logic” allowing you to complete only relevant questions.
- Remember that you are applying for 2016-2017 Financial Aid, which reflects the academic year you will be attending college.
- You can use last year’s 1040 federal tax return information and simply “estimate” in order to complete the FAFSA now. Don’t worry if you haven’t filed your taxes yet. You will be given an opportunity to correct this information later.
- If you can file your 2015 federal taxes and still meet early FAFSA deadlines, you may be eligible to use the IRS retrieval tool to directly transfer data to your online FAFSA.
- When listing the colleges on your FAFSA, list your in-state schools first in order to maximize your eligibility for state aid, and then list the other schools in alphabetical order. You can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA. If you have more than 10 schools, you can add additional schools once you receive your Student Aid Report.
- The FAFSA is FREE (as the name implies.) There is no charge to apply, so just do it!
Things not to do:
- Don’t assume you will not qualify for aid. APPLY!
- Don’t procrastinate. Late filing can mean lost aid.
- Never leave any field blank on the FAFSA. Enter a “0” if that is the correct answer for you (or “not applicable”).
- Again – Don’t wait to file your 2015 taxes in order to complete the FAFSA early. Some grants can be awarded on a “first come / first served” basis. Very often, the early bird does catch the worm in financial aid land.
- Don’t assume that the FAFSA is the only required form for financial aid consideration. The CSS Profile may also be required or even an institutional form linked directly to a college/university website. Navigate each college’s financial aid checklist thoroughly. Do that now!
- Don’t get frustrated if you feel that you have more to communicate about your financial picture than the numbers entered into the FAFSA may show. You can contact each college and talk with financial aid offices directly as well. Write down the name of the aid officer and consistently talk with this person when follow up is needed.
- Don’t forget that this is a yearly process. You have to re-apply for aid each year.
Final tip from Lisa Micele: You can do this! Start the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
- Lisa Micele, director of college counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois. She tweets @LisaMicele.