January 9, 2012
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available for college-bound students and their families to fill out for the 2012-13 school year, and financial aid advisers are recommending completing it as soon as possible.
"Filling out the FAFSA is the essential first step in receiving college financial aid, and it determines eligibility for grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs," explained Inali Saghu, associate director of the office of student financial aid at Northern Illinois University, who was quoted by The Beacon-News. "So make a resolution that's easy to keep and could pay huge dividends: Complete your FAFSA early."
Kitty McCarthy, associate vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at NIU, agreed. "We encourage students to apply between January 1 and March 1," she told the Daily Chronicle. "Applying by March 1 gives students the opportunity to be considered for as much funding as possible."
Families can submit the form online, and McCarthy added that everyone should apply, even if they do not think they will qualify for aid. "A lot of times families are surprised that they're eligible," she said.
Federal financial aid can be substantial: According to the College Board's Trends in Student Aid 2011, the average postsecondary student in 2010-11 received $13,914 in aid, including $6,566 in grants and $6,368 in federal loans.
But experts caution that families should be careful when filling out the form and should seek assistance if necessary, because mistakes can be costly. As CBS MoneyWatch noted, some families drastically reduce the amount of aid they are eligible to receive by including unnecessary information, such as retirement and business assets. Families are also not required to submit information about their homes' equity value.
Some other mistakes that can negatively impact financial aid awards include leaving blank answers, rather than writing "0" or "not applicable"; and including cents instead of rounding to the nearest dollar when reporting income, which can cause miscalculations.
Parents should also be aware that many schools give special consideration to first-generation college students. Therefore, they should select "high school" as the highest educational level if they did not graduate from college.
Families should also be sure to take advantage of a new feature that retrieves tax data automatically from the IRS to help complete the FAFSA. "We couldn't encourage families strongly enough to do that," said Jane Jordan, associate director in the student financial aid office at NIU, who was quoted by the Daily Chronicle.
Compiled by Yaffa Klugerman
"Local Advisers Say to Apply for Student Aid Now," daily-chronicle.com, January 9, 2012, Nicole Weskerna
"NIU Urges College-Bound Students to File FAFSA," beaconnews.suntimes.com, January 4, 2012
"10 Tips for Getting Federal Student Aid," cbsnews.com, January 5, 2012, Lynn O'Shaughnessy