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Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA Today

College financial books Go Gingham
Just a little light reading: college financing books

We’re in the midst of college applications and financial aid forms here. If you live in the U.S. and have a high school senior (or will shortly) or have a member of your family who’d like to attend college, I’m encouraging you to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (the FAFSA) today.

According to all the books, research, and reading we’ve done, there’s a theme: a significant percentage of families, with college bound seniors, do not fill out the FAFSA. This is a big mistake and I’ll tell you why, but first a little background.

We have a high school senior (our first) who is currently going through the college application and “how to afford it” process. The FAFSA (as the name states) is the FREE application for Federal Student Aid. It’s called that because the U.S. government established it to formalize the eligibility and process for distributing federal college aid.

While we did know what the FAFSA was, there was one main thing we didn’t know. Just like other government initiated programs (think Social Security numbers), while they were developed for a particular purpose, they have become useful for other purposes.

What we discovered is that while it is definitely required for any “need” based assistance, many, if not most, schools also require you to fill it out the FAFSA to be eligible for any of their scholarships. These include merit based scholarships, leadership scholarships, and many others. The FAFSA is not just for the “need” based aid. This is a pretty big deal.

Another point to note is that any income level cut offs for “need” based assistance (which by the way, also includes student loans, not just federal grants) are somewhat ambiguous. You may benefit even though you might not initially think you would.

Bottom line, take the time to fill it out – today (you basically need all the info you’re going to need to do your taxes anyway). For the time it takes to fill it out, it can’t hurt and it may be a requirement, for scholarships, at your student’s college choice. And, it’s free. Don’t get tricked by the many websites out there who require you to pay to fill it out.

Did you fill out the FAFSA already? Is it on your radar for the future?

Go Gingham related links:

Debt – you decide on the level you’re comfortable with
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The key to saving: frugal living is the key to saving
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10 thoughts on “Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA Today

  1. You are a year ahead of me, but I’m thinking of filling out the form now so that I can be prepared for next year. Honestly, the amount we need to know and do overwhelms me. Hoping you share any tips you discover in your journey.

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    1. Hi Rita!
      It is a little overwhelming! The more we dig in and learn the easier it becomes to understand. Getting stuff done earlier is definitely better than missing deadlines and opportunities. Having everything online makes it easier in some ways and yet compared to when we went to college, makes for a lot of moving parts!
      Happy to see your new site šŸ™‚ I followed it on BlogLovin.
      Thanks for writing in ~

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  2. Sara, we were lucky that we managed to get our 2 guys through school without applying for financial assistance for them (it pays to start planning before they walk). And they still had to live “slim” when they started out in their professions. Young people need a frugal living lesson for college and afterwards! One young friend wracked up $10,000 credit card debt while working a minimum wage job. Another couple had $100,000 in college loans and insisted on a huge, over-the-top wedding…

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    1. Wow, nicely done, Meg! Yes, the saving early and often does pay off.
      I do think frugal living lessons should be standard prior to graduation from college. Living like you’re still in college after you graduate helps you save and keep debt down. The college loan stories I’ve heard are out of control! $100K in loans is not how I’d want to start out…that’s scary!
      Thanks for sharing, Meg and congratulations on the college graduates!

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  3. The FAFSA is not hard to fill out – just sit down with your last year’s tax return as your reference. Then, if your student is applying to private colleges, sign on to the PROFILE, a FAFSA-like application required by private colleges. If you are divorced, the other parent has to also fill it out, unlike the FAFSA (they get their own, private sign-on).
    As the mom of a college freshman, an important piece of advice for those striving for merit aid is to get the testing portion done in the junior year. It pays to work through the testing workbooks during the summer between sophomore and junior years to get familiar with the question style. Then take both tests, and retake your preferred test again to improve your score. Taking the AP Writing class junior year also helped my student prepare for all those essays that are required on the apps, scholarship apps, and the tests.

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    1. Michelle, wonderful advice! Thank you!! With a sophomore this year, you know what she’ll be doing THIS summer! She doesn’t know yet but will….
      The FAFSA was actually easier to fill out after having done the CSS profile. Glad they’re both done and now we’re waiting…
      šŸ™‚
      Thanks, Michelle!

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  4. Hi Sara. Thanks for the shout-out. One thing I’ve noted is that in the last couple of years our accountant has given us a form with our taxes that has all our FAFSA numbers on it. That makes things quite a bit easier.

    Good luck with college planning. It’s an exciting time!

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    1. Good to know, Julie! I had saved that post and have referred to it. It really helps to have a few tips from someone who has gone down the path before you…
      Thanks for sharing! šŸ™‚

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    1. Hi Amy!
      It is surprising how quickly the time goes –
      You can print the FAFSA and have a look at it now. It helped us to know what was coming down the line when we did that. It’s good for future reference because it hasn’t change much over the years.
      It’s available to fill out on New Year’s Eve at 10pm central time…you can imagine how exciting our New Year’s Eve was šŸ˜‰
      Thanks for writing in, Amy!!

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