This article appears in College Prep 2018.
Financial aid like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can help a student cover the cost of college, but there are plenty of misconceptions about how and when to apply, and even who can apply for these available funds.
One thing is certain: You won’t get any aid if you don’t apply. Take the time to apply, even if you think you may not qualify.
For more information about about federal student aid, visit StudentAid.gov.
FAFSA myth 1: My parents make too much money so I shouldn’t apply.
“There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid,” said Al Betancourt, a spokesman for the Department of Education. “It does not matter if a student’s family has a low or high income, the student still will qualify for some type of financial aid, including low-interest student loans. Many factors besides income, such as the student’s family size and year in school, are taken into account. The student’s eligibility is determined by a mathematical formula, not by his or her parents’ income alone.”
FAFSA myth 2: I should wait until I’m accepted to college to apply.
“Don’t wait until you’re accepted to college to submit the FAFSA. In fact, it’s a good idea to submit the FAFSA as early as possible, since some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Rebecca Safier, financial expert at Student Loan Hero, an Austin, Texas-based company with resources, tools and information to help people get free of student debt. “The FAFSA opens every year on Oct. 1, so try your best to get everything in on or shortly after that date.”
FAFSA myth 3: I only need to fill out FAFSA once.
A student must fill out a FAFSA form for each school year for which they plan to enroll and use federal student aid, said Elyssa Kirkham, financial expert at Student Loan Hero.
“This could actually be a good thing as it means your federal student aid will be adjusted along with your family’s financial situation. For instance, if a parent lost a job or retired since you filed your last FAFSA, your financial need for aid would be different than when they were employed,” Kirkham said.
FAFSA myth 4: FAFSA is only for grants and scholarships — money that doesn’t need to be paid back.
Failing to file a FAFSA will mean you miss out on much more than just grants, such as Pell Grants, which do not need to be repaid.
“The FAFSA gets you access to all federal student aid, which includes federal student loans. If you plan to borrow to pay for college, it’s vital to submit a FAFSA so you can access these important college financing tools,” Kirkham said.
Additionally, colleges, state governments and other organizations often use the information you provide through your FAFSA to evaluate you for additional student aid, Kirkham said.
FAFSA myth 5: It doesn’t matter when I turn in FAFSA as long as I make the deadline.
Just because you have plenty of time to file for FAFSA, doesn’t mean you should put it off, Kirkham said.
“Students and their parents actually have a very wide window — 21 months altogether — to submit a FAFSA. Currently, you can file as early as Oct. 1 for the school year beginning the following fall, and the FAFSA deadline is June 30 following the school year,” Kirkham said.