Cost of College Financial Aid

Why Filling Out the FAFSA Correctly Is So Important

(Flickr - San Jose Library)
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(Flickr – San Jose Library)

When it comes to preparing your son or daughter for college, the parental “to-do” list can get pretty lengthy.

Something that needs to be a top – if not your first – priority?

Filling out the FAFSA form. One of the biggest misconceptions around the FAFSA is that it’s only a form some families should fill out. But the reality is that families of all income level should fill out the FAFSA. You never know what you may qualify for, and college financial aid departments will always look at the FAFSA to calculate what your family is expected to contribute. (The aptly named “Expected Family Contribution.”)

The trouble with the FAFSA form is that most families never see it until it’s time to fill it out (any time after January 1), and when that time comes, it’s complicated and it’s long.

There are questions the most diligent bookkeeper may not know the answers to at first or perhaps even know how to answer. This isn’t meant to simultaneously intimidate and encourage parents to fill out the form. I’m just trying to ensure it’s something you’re aware of.

And never to fear – we have a wealth of tips, (pun intended), when it comes to filling this form out.

Common Mistakes Filling Out the FAFSA

Let’s start with some of these seven most common mistakes when filling out the FAFSA.

These seven were compiled by a financial aid professional specializing in education, and are spot on when it comes to not only easy items to slip-up on, but small tweaks that could make big differences. Like this tip to not leave anything blank:

“If something does not apply to you simply enter $0 for your amounts. Leaving items blank can increase your likelihood of being selected for verification. If you are not able to link your taxes make sure you are entering an amount in each line.”

Top Overall Tips Filling Out the FAFSA

The FAFSA becomes available every year on January 1. But the deadline to submit to a school, just like application deadlines, varies by college.

That fact alone is one of the many reasons you should save this list of ten top overall tips for FAFSA success. Other tips on the list include specifics about what your retirement fund has to do with your chance at aid and where to keep certain amounts of money and assets.

Something families don’t often think about? The varying financial aid packages offered, and the fact that you can appeal the package offered to you.

“After a college has sent you a financial aid package, there’s still an opportunity to negotiate a better aid award with the school. If there has been a substantial change to your financial situation, or schools have given you wildly different aid packages, it might be worth making a call to the financial aid office. Experts stress that it’s important to be polite and grateful for the money you’ve already been awarded. ‘It’s an art,’ Mark Kantrowitz told Time. ‘Don’t complain about how hard it is to make ends meet on a six-figure salary, because in most cases the financial aid administrator is making a lot less money than the families that they’re reviewing.'”

The Earlier and More Thorough You’re Filling Out the FAFSA, the Better

The FAFSA is in place to aid in making college affordable for all students and families.

Yes, it’s an extensive questionnaire.

However, the best shot at getting the most out of your application comes with filing as early and as thoroughly as possible. If you’re concerned about a FAFSA deadline specific to the school your son or daughter may be attending, you can always call that college or university’s financial aid department or visit their website.


As always, our team of recruiting experts at NCSA Athletic Recruiting are just a phone call away and ready to help you get the most out of your FAFSA application and aid available to your student-athlete. The best way to get started is with a recruiting profile.

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About the author
Laura Chmiel

Laura Chmiel is a marketing coordinator and a lead writer for NCSA Athletic Recruiting. As someone with a passion for athletics and education, she graduated from Indiana university with a B.S. in Elementary Education. After school, she gained first-hand experience helping student-athletes and their families get to college.