The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the starting point for accessing need-based aid. It’s the single most important step to acquiring the financial assistance you need to pay for college. For students applying to college this fall, the form goes live on October 1. And the earlier you file it, the better. As financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz points out in, “What is the FASFA?” “Students who file the FAFSA during the first three months tend to get double the grants, on average, of students who file the FAFSA later.”
And yet many families, including some of those most worried about their ability to pay for college, will put off filing the form. Some families will resist filing it at all, for reasons ranging from a lack of knowledge, to a lack of opportunity, to a lack of access to good advice. But in many cases, the unspoken reason is that they’re intimidated.
The form seems complex. The questions are invasive and prying. The process by which your need for aid is determined can feel mysterious. Discussions of money (and our lack of it) can feel uncomfortable. The price of making a mistake feels too costly.
But none of those fears change this simple fact: You will not get financial aid for college if you don’t file the FAFSA.
If you’re feeling some FAFSA intimidation, it’s time to run towards it.
Financial aid is awarded on a year-by-year basis, which means that a student will likely submit the form four times during college. Unless you can painlessly write a check covering the full cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, travel and living expenses) for college next year, there is no logical reason not to file the FAFSA.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t claim that you’ll never qualify or will never get enough. And please don’t listen to people who tell you that applying for financial aid will hurt your chances of admission (more on that here). The truth is that you have nothing to lose but the time you spend filling out the form. And what you have to gain could be the aid you need to attend the college of your choice.
The FAFSA goes live on October 1, and the process to file it might well feel unfamiliar. That’s a recipe for intimidation. But if that feeling comes over you, the best thing you can do is run towards it.
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