Five FAFSA misconceptions, debunked

Mother with son filling out paperwork

The FAFSA is an important financial aid form for college. Make sure you understand its purpose by reading these 5 misconceptions (and realities).

So you’ve started thinking about where to apply to school, but have you considered how to pay for it? If not, you should.

For the 2022–2023 school year, the average cost of a private college was $39,400. State residents attending public colleges paid $10,950. As a student, you’ll want to get as much aid as possible to help defray these costs. That process starts by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Not sure what it is or why you would bother? Below, find five of the most common misconceptions and what you need to know to go to the head of the class.

Myth: I have plenty of time to fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is a form the U.S. Department of Education requires students to fill out annually to determine eligibility for need-based financial aid and to qualify for other ways to pay for college. The form for the following school year is available to fill out online between October 1 and June 30. While this might seem like a long time, waiting until the last minute can hurt you, says Leah Ingram, author of The Complete Guide to Paying for College: Save Money, Cut Costs, and Get More for Your Education Dollar.

Earlier is better, she says, because the sooner you complete the information, the sooner it’s sent to schools. “Financial aid is often given out on a first-come, first-served basis. So, the sooner you get in your applications and your FAFSA, the better your chances of getting financial aid that you qualify for.” Also, if you make a mistake, there’s a better chance you’ll learn about it and have time to fix it if you filed early, she adds.

Myth: FAFSA is just for parents.

While your parents can fill out the form, students must create their own unique ID so they can digitally sign the form, too.

Myth: It’s going to take us hours — and be a huge headache — to complete the FAFSA.

Ingram suggests carving out about an hour of your time for filling out the form. It’s easier these days because FAFSA has a built-in IRS retrieval tool that autopopulates your form with all the pertinent financial information. One caveat: “We always found it helpful to have a copy of that year’s tax return nearby just to double-check the math,” says Ingram.

Myth: My family’s income is too high and I won’t get any aid, so it’s not worth filling out the FAFSA.

Everyone should fill out the FAFSA because it’s the only way to potentially qualify for merit scholarships, grants and Federal student loans. In addition, many colleges require the FAFSA for their own need-based financial aid programs. Even if you don’t qualify for federal loans, having FAFSA information can help colleges decide if you qualify for other financial aid programs, like work-study.

Myth: My parents already filled out FAFSA last year when my sibling was applying to colleges, so we don’t have to complete it again.

You must fill out a FAFSA every year — it isn’t a one-and-done process. If you have a sibling in college already it’s even more important, says Ingram. “It is time-consuming but when you have children in college overlapping, your family’s need does go up and you’re likely to get more financial aid.”

Learn more about paying for college with scholarships at our Scholarship Resource Center.

Want to read more about completing the FAFSA?

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