SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--High school seniors applying for college either part time or full time should add one more task to their to-do list: complete a federal financial aid application (FAFSA) in January. Submitting a FAFSA is the only way to apply for federal and state aid programs offering nearly $248 billion for the 2015-16 academic year.
Students’ current winter break is a perfect time to gather the information needed to prepare a FAFSA, which includes family income estimates, student’s name and Social Security number, a valid email address, grades, and a list of the family’s assets and financial investments (primary residence not included).
Top 6 Myths about Filing a FAFSA:
- I’m not eligible for aid. Wrong! Most students are eligible for some type of financial aid, regardless of income.
- I need to wait until my family’s income tax form is filed. Wrong! Completing a FAFSA as early as possible in January each year is critical to avoid missing out of first-come, first-served aid programs. File in January with income estimates and update your FAFSA once your family’s income tax form is filed.
- It’s too difficult. Wrong! Yes, the FAFSA can be a bit intimidating, but if you gather the right documents and invest the time, you can get through it. Many sources of help are available if you get stuck along the way.
- I’m a part-time student so I don’t qualify. Wrong! It doesn’t matter if a student attends college part time or full time, is an undergraduate or graduate, or attends a certificate-based postsecondary school, a community college, or a four-year university. All students may and should submit a FAFSA.
- Student loans are not financial aid. Wrong! Students who file a FAFSA are eligible for federal student loans, which have low interest costs, favorable eligibility criteria, and a variety of repayment and deferment options for students and parents.
- Military education aid is reduced by submitting a FAFSA. Wrong! The amount of military aid for college that veterans, military servicemembers, and their family members receive does not change, regardless of the amount of aid they are awarded by filing a FAFSA.
Filing a FAFSA Helps College Success
While most college students are eligible for some financial aid every academic year, about 8 million students each year forgo the opportunity to make paying for college more affordable by filing a FAFSA, according to studies by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education. Nationally, there’s a growing concern that many who don’t submit a FAFSA – an estimated 2.3 million students from lower-income households - would have qualified for need-based grant aid, which does not have to be repaid. Multiple academic studies have shown that first-year college students who do not prepare a FAFSA are more likely to drop out of community colleges and four-year universities.
“Many studies since 1988 have confirmed the importance filing a FAFSA has on college success,” said Christina Kline, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. “Everyone who has the opportunity to influence students’ pathways to higher education should encourage them to complete a FAFSA.”
First Lady’s FAFSA Challenge
To encourage greater support for all students filing a FAFSA early, First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of her Reach Higher initiative, is asking the nation’s high schools to urge every senior to prepare a FAFSA. Each school should then create a three-to-five-minute video showing the creative ways it tackled her challenge. High schools have until March 16, 2015, to upload their FAFSA challenge video to YouTube or Vimeo. Finalists will have an opportunity to invite the First Lady to appear as a speaker during their high school’s graduation ceremony.
Because many find the 130-question form complex, federal regulation offers students two options for preparing a FAFSA – either complete it for free on the U.S. Department of Education’s website or get professional assistance from a FAFSA preparer who charges a fee. FAFSA options are much like options for preparing income tax forms.
Timing and Accuracy Determine Aid Type and Amount
While each state and college has its own FAFSA deadline, the best strategy is to file the form as close to January 1st as possible because a growing number of aid programs are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
The timing of when a student files a FAFSA can impact the type and amount of financial aid awarded, according to 2013 and 2014 studies by Lyle McKinney, Ph.D., assistant professor of higher education at the University of Houston, and Heather Novak, Ph.D., statistical analyst for the Office of Institutional Research. Free grants are often limited and later applications can result in less aid awarded to students with equal need because fewer funds are available to later FAFSA applicants, their studies found.
“Students do not just need to file a FAFSA, they need to do it as early as possible,” McKinney’s and Novak’s 2014 study concludes.
FAFSA accuracy is just as important as timing. An inaccurate FAFSA can be rejected by the federal processor, making a student lose his or her place in the virtual line for first-come, first-served aid while a correction is made. Some inaccuracies go undiscovered but could reduce a student’s aid award just the same. For example when calculating assets, a family’s primary residence should not be included because that miscalculation could reduce the amount of aid a student is eligible to receive. A common mistake students make is simply failing to sign the FAFSA with their personal identification number (PIN) or forgetting to have a parent or guardian sign the FAFSA.
Carefully reviewing each FAFSA answer – or having a financial aid professional review a student’s aid application – helps avoid mistakes. Ensuring accuracy and filing in January will result in maximum eligibility for student aid, helping make college more affordable.
About Student Financial Aid Services, Inc.
Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. – www.FAFSA.com - assists students and their families in securing the most financial aid possible to achieve their college dreams. Established in 1991, SFAS is the nation’s oldest, fee-based provider of preparation and assistance services related to the federal student aid application (FAFSA). Our knowledgeable Student Aid Advisors support and assist financial aid applicants as authorized by the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008). We offer our services online at www.FAFSA.com and by telephone toll-free at 1-866-514-8938. More than 10,000 client comments are posted at www.FAFSA.com/clientfeedback.
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