10 tips for filling out the FAFSA

Mom helping daughter on the computer

Don't miss the deadline!

As the deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) approaches, many students and families find themselves diving into the daunting world of financial aid applications. Navigating the FAFSA can be a complex and overwhelming process, but with the right guidance and preparation, you can streamline the process and maximize your chances of receiving aid. 

1. Apply before the deadline: 

Mark your calendars! The California 2024 FAFSA deadline is April 2. It's crucial to submit your application before this deadline to ensure you're considered for all available aid opportunities.

2. Apply regardless of eligibility doubts: 

Even if you're unsure whether you'll qualify for aid, it's important to submit the FAFSA. Many factors beyond income are considered in determining eligibility, so you may still be eligible for certain types of aid.

Many scholarships and other financial aid also use the completion of the FAFSA as a prerequisite for consideration, so if you're going to be looking at other sources of financial help in college, you'll want to get the FAFSA out of the way.

3. Create FSA IDs early: 

Before diving into the FAFSA, both the student and one parent should create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. This ID serves as your electronic signature and grants access to Federal Student Aid's online systems. 

You will not be able to submit your application until you have your ID. These ID's can take up to three days to be approved and received, so it's important that you aren't leaving this step until the last minute. 

4. Read carefully: 

Take your time to read all instructions and questions carefully. Pay close attention to details to ensure accurate and complete responses. There are a few items that use definitions specific to Financial Aid, so it's important to understand the following:

5. Double check everything: 

Mistakes on the FAFSA can lead to delays in processing or even the loss of potential aid. Double-check all information entered to ensure accuracy and completeness.

6. List all potential colleges: 

Even if you haven't finalized your college choices, list up to ten schools you're considering attending. This ensures that each school receives your financial information for aid consideration.

7. Avoid leaving fields blank: 

If a question doesn't apply to you, enter a zero or N/A (not applicable) instead of leaving it blank. Leaving fields blank could raise red flags or result in processing delays.

8. Apply online for error detection: 

Filling out the FAFSA online comes with the benefit of built-in error detection. The online form can flag potential mistakes or missing information, helping you correct them before submission.

You should also take advantage of the transfer of your tax information using the IRS DRT. This will help remove inaccuracies in the reporting of your tax information, since the FAFSA looks at your assessed income tax liability, and not your adjusted gross income. 

9. Prepare necessary documents in advance: 

Gather all required documents, including tax returns, W-2 forms, bank statements and any other financial records. Having these documents on hand, for both the parent and the child, will streamline the application process.

10. Consider appeals for changed financial situations: 

If your financial circumstances change after submitting the FAFSA, don't hesitate to appeal your financial aid award. Changes such as job loss, divorce or unexpected medical expenses could warrant a reevaluation of your aid eligibility.

It's time to sign and submit

If you're prepared, the FAFSA doesn't have to be daunting. Remember, early preparation and thoroughness are key to a successful FAFSA application. And most importantly, don't forget to sign and submit your form once it's completed. Best of luck in your financial aid journey!