March 9, 2010
Last week, I was at a “FAFSA Night” in a rural town in Utah, helping families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid–the sometimes daunting, but manageable, form required to get any type of federal financial aid. My job is to provide outreach about college access and financial aid to high school students all over the state, and this sometimes includes talking parents into completing the FAFSA. This particular evening was one of those scenarios. A concerned and somewhat frazzled parent said, “I know only poor families and minority families get financial aid. We’re neither of those, so why should I bother applying?” Both of those myths are untrue, and my response is the same for everyone: it never hurts to fill out the FAFSA. Yes, it’s a minor inconvenience, but you never know how much it could pay off.
Since it is FAFSA season, here are a few reasons you should fill it out, if you haven’t already.
- The FAFSA is increasingly becoming the benchmark for financial aid. It’s not just used to determine Pell Grants and Stafford loans anymore. Some scholarships (such as Utah’s Jump$tart scholarship) require proof of FAFSA completion as part of the application. Information from the FAFSA is used by schools to award institutional grants and scholarships. Work-study jobs, usually good jobs on campus, are also awarded based on information in the FAFSA.
- It’s easier than it used to be. Recent updates to the online process make the FAFSA filing more streamlined. Gone are the days of the 18-page paper form; now, as you fill out the FAFSA, it automatically adjusts itself to only show you the questions you need to answer.
- First-come, first-serve. In many cases, the earlier you fill out the FAFSA (before your school’s priority deadline is best) the more likely you’ll be able to tap into the pool of money waiting around at your institution.
- If worse comes to worse, pretty much every student in the country can qualify for an unsubsidized Stafford loan. While the government does not pay the interest on these loans while the student is in school (as they do for subsidized Stafford loans, which are awarded on the basis of financial need), they still have a low interest rate and excellent borrower protections and benefits.