Financial aid season is upon us, propsies! If you haven’t started preparing and applying for aid already, what are you waiting for? The Prospect has staff members who have been there and done that, and here are some things we wish we would have known about financial aid back when we were in high school!
1. Consistency is key!
College writer Christine Fulgham says, “If you have non-married parents who live together, make sure you pick one parent (I chose the one with the lower income) and if you do multiple forms of financial aid like the CSS profile, keep it consistent. You don’t want to use one parent for one and another for the other form. It creates a discrepancy, which isn’t good.”
Always be consistent no matter the financial aid form you use, no matter the school you send the form to, et cetera. You always want to be 100% honest and 100% constant because it will help you avoid sending in more paperwork or losing aid altogether in the long run. Make sure everything you turn in uses the same information so that people don’t have a reason to doubt your sincerity when it comes to financial aid.
2. Time is of the essence!
Multiple college writers talked about time crunches when it came to financial aid. College writer Sarah Wiszniak states, “I wish I had known more about how long it would take to fill out things like the FAFSA and the CSS Profile. I knew it would take a long time, but having to do math and trying to decipher what things meant on tax returns really stumped my dad and me.”
When you first fill out the FAFSA and other financial aid profiles, be warned: it takes forever. This gets easier as time goes on because a lot of the base information is already filled out thanks to your handy dandy pin, but the first time is always the hardest.
College writer Eric Po also has similar sentiments, saying, “I was honestly expecting the process to take only a few hours or so, but because my family didn’t have all of the required documents to fill out the FAFSA, it took a little longer than expected.” Ouch.
3. Expectations will be broken!
Christine discovered the hard way that, “Some colleges will require more paperwork than others. So it’s better to get started as soon as possible and not wait.” The financial aid struggle bus may not be over as soon as you turn in your FAFSA. There are many more documents that your school may require for you in order to get your financial aid, so you have to leave time for those documents to be completed.
Most people have heard about the FAFSA, but the lesser known CSS Profile may be just as important. Eric says, “I also think it’s important to realize that some schools require the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA. That’s why students need to check on the school’s official website and make sure they have submitted all of the materials needed to apply for financial aid, because not turning in everything can cause real problems. In some cases, students could be missing out on potential money the school(s) would offer.”
If your school requires the filling out of the CSS Profile, make sure you do so ASAP. You don’t want to be left out of some or all financial aid because you forgot to fill out a form. College is expensive, and most students cannot afford to foot the entire bill themselves. Make sure you are filling out every form that your school wants you to fill out.
4. Fill all forms out correctly!
Eric has another suggestion. “I recommend that you make sure and take the time to fill out the application properly because making mistakes could easily cause your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) to be different than what it would really be. Plus, getting things changed once you’ve submitted is a nightmare,” he says.
You don’t want to end up with a FAFSA form that overestimates your EFC if you can help it. Make sure that you take your time to fill out all the forms correctly. Making changes after the fact is hard to do, especially after you’ve spent hours working on them to begin with. You may want to save your FAFSA, and then come back again after a while to look at it. You could even get a second opinion from a friend. Just make sure that the form you send in is the form you want to be shown to the world.
5. Sign up for as much financial aid as you can!
College writer Elizabeth Winters explains, “I wish I would have been less pig-headed and more realistic–that is, I wish someone would have told me to apply for all of those in-state scholarships even though I wasn’t thinking I’d stay in-state (and that’s exactly what happened). Now I’m really wishing I had, because I think I would have stood a good chance for some of them. Just apply, apply, apply, even if it’s ‘just’ $500. $500 goes a long way when your textbook bill slaps you in the face.”
If you can, apply for more aid than you think you’ll need! Apply for a few scholarships every few weeks if you can. Scholarships are an important piece of the financial aid puzzle. Be sure that you are applying so that you can have money for the future, plus the more grants and scholarships you have, the fewer loans you will have to take out.
I hope you are enjoying financial aid season propsies, and I hope that you take these lessons to heart and learn from our mistakes!