The cost of attending college is on the rise. Don’t make it more pricey than it has to be by missing out on potential college financial aid opportunities. If you want to give yourself and your family the best chance at reducing your college expenses, filling out the FAFSA is a must!
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If you are in the midst of navigating the college recruiting/application process, you already know how daunting it can be. You are faced with a ton of decisions as you evaluate athletic programs, academic majors, location, and the cost of attendance – not to mention hoping all of those factors align with which coaches actually want you on their team!
While the possibility of an athletic scholarship is definitely out there, you never know what kind of offer you’ll get (or not). The reality is, if you miss the FAFSA you could be leaving precious dollars on the table.
What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an annual form that students and parents must complete in order to be eligible for federal student loans, work study, and grant money. This is all separate from any athletic award money you may receive.
The online application (found at the U.S. Department of Education’s www.fafsa.gov website) will ask questions about the applicant’s and parents’ household, income, and assets, so the government can determine how much you can (or at least how much THEY say you can) afford for college.
Here’s how the FAFSA works
The way it works is this:
- You fill out and submit the form
- They send back your Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC (what they say you can afford)
- Schools you’ve designated receive your information
- Schools use the EFC to help create a financial aid package for you
If a school’s cost of attendance is more than your EFC, generally the school makes up difference through an offer of various sources of aid (and this varies by school). Not all of it is free money, but if you don’t even apply, you’ll never know.
In short, if you want to even entertain the idea of unlocking additional funds for college (with or without a volleyball scholarship), the FAFSA holds the key.
Is there a deadline?
The FAFSA is available for families to fill out as early as Oct. 1 for the following academic year. The official deadline is June 30, but many schools begin distributing aid according to earlier deadlines (and there are only so many dollars to give out), so it’s always best to get the FAFSA submitted as early as possible.
Some schools also require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile to be completed as part of their financial aid application process. Here is a list of schools who will need the CSS.
5 most common FAFSA mistakes
Each year families lose opportunities for federal aid because they make crucial mistakes when filing their FAFSA. Mistakes can cause delays or even rejection of your application. Many mistakes can be corrected, but that adds time and stress to an already busy season of your life – and who needs that?! So let’s do this right the first time, shall we?
Here are some of the most common FAFSA mistakes according to financial aid experts and the U.S. Department of Education:
FAFSA Mistake #1: Using the wrong website
First and foremost, make sure you use the official site, at www.fafsa.gov. If you end up somewhere else and are asked for your credit card information, you are in the wrong place! The FAFSA application is always FREE.
FAFSA Mistake #2: Not proofreading
Read directions and take the time to go over all of your entries, including one of the most common mistakes – making sure your name and social security number are entered correctly. If your name doesn’t match the social security number you entered, your application automatically gets rejected. Use your full legal name, and double check the spelling and numbers.
Look for typos and transpositions of numbers throughout your application before you submit. The FAFSA requires all blank boxes to be filled in (i.e. if a dollar amount is zero, type in $0.00). When typing numbers, it’s easy to make a mistake, so check those carefully, too! You can imagine the impact on your EFC if you accidentally list your student income as $71,000 when it was actually $17,000. Simple errors can have huge ramifications!
FAFSA Mistake #3: Being unprepared with documents
The interview questions are pretty straight-forward, but having to stop in the middle to go search for a bank statement or your tax return can definitely slow you down and add unnecessary overwhelm. Nerdwallet offers a checklist of documents to have on hand as you begin. Some are listed here, but I also have a free pdf download down at the bottom of this post with a more detailed checklist.
Your Social Security Card
Your driver’s license (if any)
Your W-2 forms
Your Federal Income Tax Return (2 yrs prior)
Your untaxed income records
Your current bank statements
Your parents’ Federal Income Tax Return (2 yrs prior)
Your parents’ W-2 forms
Your parents’ bank statements
Your parents’ untaxed income records
Your parents’ current business and investment records
You should also obtain your FSA ID ahead of time so you’re ready to go as soon as you have all your documents together. The FSA ID is the login information and password you’ll need to access your account. Keep this information handy!
FAFSA Mistake #4: Forgetting to actually sign the form
Believe it or not, many families submit their FAFSA without the required signatures. You and your parent must both “sign” the form electronically using your FSA ID to make it official. Your FAFSA won’t be processed without it.
Fun fact: A few years ago, if you forgot your FSA ID (called a PIN back then), you had to reset it and wait 3 days for them to mail you a hard copy! At least today the process is a little better, and it is now possible to reset it electronically, but trust me, it’s better to just have it on hand.
FAFSA Mistake #5: Not filling out the FAFSA (or waiting too long)
Sometimes families feel the FAFSA might be too confusing, takes too long to fill out, or they make too much money and won’t qualify anyway. They ignore the FAFSA and just don’t fill it out at all, or wait too long and miss the deadline. This is potentially a huge mistake.
You might be surprised to learn that there is no income level “cap” when it comes to applying for financial aid. Also, the FAFSA isn’t only for federal funds. There are many state and private organizations who also use the FAFSA application to help them in their award decisions!
But without the FAFSA, they don’t even know you’re out there. By not filling out a FAFSA your family could be losing thousands of dollars that could help you pay for college. Don’t be that family! The application is free, so why not take that first step?
Other helpful FAFSA tips
Designate the right schools. When asked, include all schools you may be interested in attending (currently you are allowed up to ten at a time). You will need to enter the six-digit school code, which you can get from the school’s financial aid page on their website or through the search tool on the FAFSA site. If you end up applying to a school you did not list initially, there is a way to add it later, but that’s just an added step.
Know your eligibility status. If your goal is to play college volleyball, you need to be proactive in taking care of all sides of the equation. Take the added step to check-in with your high school counselor. Make sure you have everything you need as far as NCAA eligibility. Receiving acceptance and financial aid from a school is an amazing accomplishment, but if you are declared ineligible, you’ll find yourself on the bench.
Proofread (again). When you think you’ve done a great proofreading job and you’re ready to send it in, I highly suggest leaving your FAFSA sit for a day or two, then looking at it again with fresh eyes. I like to print out a hard copy to review, then look for anything I need to correct. Once that’s done and I’m happy with it, I log in and submit!
Opportunities (and dollars) are out there!
Whether or not an athletic scholarship is in the works, the FAFSA should be a non-negotiable piece of your college application process. The task isn’t as much fun as playing in the gold medal match at Nationals or getting a win against your rival high school, but it’s a necessary part of taking the next step to becoming a college student-athlete.
Financially speaking, NOT submitting the FAFSA could cause you to miss out on some important college aid opportunities. It could even eliminate potential colleges from your list because you thought you couldn’t afford them – and this may or may not be true.
By being prepared, breaking down the tasks into a few small steps, and avoiding the common FAFSA mistakes, chances are you’ll experience a win not only with your school selection and acceptance, but in your bank account, too!
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