Planning for college can be overwhelming, especially trying to navigate the world of financial aid. Whether this is your first child heading off to college or the third, there always seems to be another, “I heard that we shouldn’t fill that out” or “We don’t qualify for that.” The last thing you need is a mountain of myths and misinformation that leave you incorrectly assuming you will not have adequate resources to achieve this important educational and career milestone for your family. The following are some common misconceptions about the financial aid process.
Myth: I Don’t Need to Fill Out the FAFSA
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the most necessary and valuable tool in funding your college education. It is also one of the areas steeped in the most misinformation. The biggest misconception about this important financial aid form is that it is too long, too hard, and a complete waste of time. Misinformation about this vital step has led to a decrease in FAFSA completion. According to National College Attainment Network findings, only 61.2% of 2019 high school graduates completed FAFSA forms. Not completing this step can mean missing out on several opportunities for financial aid and scholarships.
Today’s FAFSA application is a web-based streamlined version of the older paper forms. Tax information is easily transferred from the IRS to ensure ease and accuracy. According to Allie Arcese, a spokesperson for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the current online version of the FAFSA takes, on average, 23 minutes to fill out. “The time required to complete it is minimal, but the potential rewards are great,” says Rick Shipman, Michigan State University’s executive director of financial aid.
Every student planning to attend college should fill out the FAFSA as early as possible. Regardless of your current financial need, having a completed form opens you up to money-saving opportunities. There is a significant portion of FAFSA money awards that do not require repayment. You will also be prepared if your financial situation changes, and you need to apply for aid. The form is available each year beginning on October 1. The sooner you fill it out, the better. There are federal, state, and college-specific deadlines that apply to financial aid packages, and applying early can put you at the head of the line for grants and scholarships.
FAFSA forms are the first step in awarding any potential type of student aid, including free money such as grants and scholarships, so don’t let any myths about this important college financial aid tool keep you from getting your fair share.
Myth: I Can’t Get a Scholarship
Scholarships are one of the most recognizable forms of financial aid. Along with grants, scholarships make up over 57% of the yearly financial aid that is awarded. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding the ability to receive this free money. There is a great deal of scholarship money out there waiting for you to take it.
There are many different types of scholarships out there, and you don’t necessarily have to achieve a high GPA or score in the top 90% to qualify for them. In addition to academic scholarships, you can find noncompetitive need-based scholarships that require nothing more than the 23 minutes it takes to fill out a FAFSA form.
Scholarships are available for high school seniors and students at every level of undergrad and graduate programs. There are even scholarships for sophomores and juniors in high school. Don’t narrow your search to only full-ride scholarships or those that offer large amounts of money. Smaller scholarship amounts may be less competitive and easier to attain. The applicant pool is also much smaller for lesser-known scholarships and scholarships based on specific areas of study, specific ethnic or gender-based scholarships, or those specific to a school district or community. Additionally, many federal and state scholarships are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s important to apply early for these financial aid options.
Myth: I Have to Figure This Out on My Own
Contrary to popular belief, you are not on your own. Your educational institution’s financial aid office is a valuable and underused resource. The financial aid administrator and staff members are available to answer questions about your specific financial aid award or to help you understand the guidelines for other financial aid opportunities that may be available. They can help you make adjustments to changing financial needs and help you navigate the post-graduation loan repayment process.
You are likely going to have many questions as you navigate your way along the college financial aid highway, and those of us at College Benefits Research Group are here to make sure you have the most accurate information possible to help you make the best decision for you and your family. Feel free to ask us anything about the college application process, including any financial questions about this important step toward your future.
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