Once upon a time there was a girl who won a small scholarship for going to an in-state school with a certain GPA. The girl and her family were so happy and thought that that would be the end of the story. However, the girl and her family waited semester after semester, and the scholarship never came. Finally, the girl’s mother called her old school and asked where the money had gone. The counselor at the school explained that they had to fill out some papers to officially receive the money. That, my readers, is where the real story begins.
My mother believed that when my counselor said we needed to fill out some papers for financial aid, it only meant that we had to fill out FAFSA, and so over winter break I began the process of making a FAFSA account and filling out the basic information. I sat one lazy morning filling in my father’s middle name and what degree my mother had earned in what year.
When I had finally finished filling out the forms, the FAFSA automatically gave me financial aid with a steep interest rate. The money was then forwarded to my school, and the school assumed that it was meant for my tuition for the upcoming semester. After a considerable panic, I called my high school and it turned out that my counselor had meant for my mom to give her some financial information so that she could process the scholarship.
The FAFSA was not supposed to be part of my scholarship story at all, but now it was the main subject. I found myself with student loans that would only cause problems, and I emailed the financial aid office at my school to make sure they did not use any of the loan money to pay my semester bill so that the money could be returned. Ultimately, as far as I know, the money was returned and that will not be contributing to my impending debt.
What You Should Take Away
While my story may not exactly relate to everyone, it does give a sense of the way the FAFSA works. I continue to be surprised by how technology has facilitated the college process to a fault, where so many steps are taken care of for you that you hardly know what’s going on. Had I known that clicking ‘submit’ after filling out my general information would automatically set me up for a loan, I would not have completed the form as nonchalantly as I did. The best way to approach the FAFSA is slowly. See if there are ways to glance through the form before actually putting in any real information. Before you actually begin filling it out, make sure that you are aware of your family’s finances. Do some rough calculations of what you need, what the FAFSA will likely qualify you for, and what payment plan you can reasonably manage.
Filling out FAFSA should be a family event. I sat on my couch on a Tuesday morning filling in spaces because there was nothing better to do. You want to make sure you and your family have your social security cards, passport, and any other important documents on hand so that you do not have to scramble.
The good news is that once you have actually filled out the FAFSA application, you are done. As I said, the money was sent to my school within a day or two, and had that been my intention, I would have been done. The FAFSA does not need to be a long, drawn out process, just a carefully done one. To sum up, prepare diligently to do the FAFSA, carefully check everything over as you fill out your FAFSA form with your family, and then let it go.