Paying for college is a big undertaking for many families. Given how tough the process can be, it carries with it a lot of myths and misconceptions. Perhaps no payment process comes with more opinions and misunderstanding then one of the most common ways to pay for college: The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
The FAFSA is afforded based on a current or future college students’ eligibility for financial aid. This government funded program can pay for a percentage or all of a student’s tuition, room and board, and even books, depending on the level of need.
While it is a great help to many families, its widespread use has created a lot of misconceptions around the application process. Below we debunk some of the most common misconceptions and myths regarding the FAFSA and which students are able to utilize it.
1. The FAFSA is hard to complete
While at one time this may have been true, in the wonderful age of the Internet this is not the case at all! Today you can complete the FAFSA online and usually within a reasonable amount of time. Most students, or their families, can fill out the form in an hour or less.
Of course, this can vary based on your family’s unique circumstances. Proper preparation also can help expedite the process. Having your important paperwork, tax documents and account passwords at the ready can save time completing the FAFSA.
2. You or your family has to be low income to fill it out
First of all, absolutely anyone planning to or currently attending college can (and should) fill out the FAFSA. While your or your family’s income can determine how much aid you ultimately get, the reasons, formulas, and rules for why someone gets financial aid are vast. Just because your family wouldn’t be considered low-income doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get any aid.
In addition, a student filling out their own FAFSA may be unaware of their family’s complete financial situation. In other words, you may qualify for more help than you think.
3. You or your family has to be low income to get any money from it
This misconception goes with the one above, but it’s also untrue! The FAFSA was designed to give the right amount of help to any student who needs it. While those with lower income might get more help than those with high incomes, it does not mean that a certain salary will disqualify you or your family.
The FAFSA takes many factors beyond income into account when determining a student’s eligibility.
4. FAFSA only gives out loans
Loans are one of the ways that the FAFSA helps students, but it’s far from the only way. Don’t let this misconception stop you from applying for the FAFSA, even if you are trying to pay for school without having to take out loans.
The FAFSA can connect students to grants and scholarships as well as loans. Plus, when you receive your letter of aid, you have the ability to accept or deny what aid you accept. This means you can say no to the loans and accept any grants or scholarships that they may offer you.
5. If you don’t know what school you’re going to you can’t fill out the FAFSA yet
You actually can fill out the FAFSA before knowing what school you’ll be attending. Make a list of all the schools you plan on applying to on your FAFSA form since some schools do have earlier deadlines due to limited funds.
Remember that you can always add or delete forms from your FAFSA later on.
6. There’s no point filling it out if your parents make decent money
By far the most common FAFSA myth there is is being too poor for college yet too rich for financial aid. Like we mentioned above, the FAFSA takes more into account than income. While EFC (expected family contribution) is a factor, it’s one of three considerations. The other factors include your enrollment status and the cost of your college. This means what school you’re going to plays a factor in your student aid, as does whether you’re going full-time or part-time.
In addition, some students who live on their own or support themselves may qualify without factoring in their family’s income. That may open up more possibilities for assistance.
7. FAFSA is only for state or public schools
What school you’re going to does play a part in how much financial aid you could receive. However, both public and private schools are eligible for financial aid. Because private schools are more expensive you may even get more in financial aid to help cover the higher costs.
The level of aid is determined on a school-by-school basis, and shouldn’t be counted on when determining what school you’d like to attend.
8. I won’t qualify because I have a college savings account
This is completely untrue and shouldn’t stop anyone from saving for college! With the tuition for school constantly rising, it’s important for families to get as much help as they can. Having a college savings account doesn’t disqualify you for student aid. Some accounts, such as a parent- or grandparent-owned 529 plan, may not even be counted as a part of your EFC.
9. I need good grades to qualify for FAFSA
Good grades can help you to receive scholarships from the school you’re attending and other organizations, but they don’t play a factor in your FAFSA. This fund is entirely need-based. Don’t let one bad chemistry grade stop you from applying!
10. I can only fill out the FAFSA once
This is false. You can, and should, fill out the FAFSA every year you’re in school. If you qualify your first year, you have to continue to fill out the FAFSA every year anyway to continue to get federal aid for your schooling. It’s a habit worth getting into.
11. I don’t have good (or any) credit so I won’t qualify
While your family’s debt can play a factor in your EFC, having bad or no credit doesn’t play a factor in your financial aid. Don’t let your credit or debt worries stop you from filling out the FAFSA. Federal financial aid, student loans, and grants play by different rules than traditional loans.
12. If I don’t qualify once, I won’t qualify ever
Thankfully, life changes. As life changes, so can the amount you qualify for in terms of financial aid. Not only do your and your family’s life events affect how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive, other factors, such as federal laws, play a factor as well.
For example, having a sibling or additional family member starting college can drastically affect the level of financial aid for which you qualify. Taking the hour to apply every year is more than worth it, even if you only qualify for one of the four (or more) years you’re in school.
13. I can just do Sallie Mae instead, it’s the same thing
Not the same! Not the same at all! For one, grants and scholarships from the FAFSA won’t require you to repay anything. In addition, the interest rates on federal loans versus personal loans through Sallie Mae are usually much lower. While alternative loans can play their part in getting a college education, it’s best to consider your options through the FAFSA first.
14. There’s a fee to fill out the FAFSA
When you fill out your FAFSA, if it asks you for a credit card number or tries to charge you a fee, RUN! This isn’t the real FAFSA site. Filling out, completing, and submitting the FAFSA is 100% free. It’s even in the name: The Free Application for Student Aid!
Unfortunately, scam artists try to take advantage of families in tough positions as they try to help their kids get to college. Don’t let them pull one over on you. If there’s one lesson to learn from this list of misconceptions, let it be this one: the FAFSA is free! Don’t ever pay for it!
Spend the time to save some money
While applying for federal aid doesn’t guarantee your eligibility or aid, many students or families of students who didn’t think they’d qualify do. It’s more than worth it to take an hour out of your year to save potentially thousands of dollars! Don’t let common FAFSA myths scare you away.