What is the FAFSA?

By SAGE Scholars
February 2, 2022
In this three-part series, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of FAFSA. Among the most important steps for a prospective college student in their college planning, FAFSA determines how much financial aid a student qualifies for. In the first installment of our FAFSA series, we’ll provide tips and tricks for filling out the application while also answering frequently asked questions like what is the FAFSA? Why is it so important?

If you’re getting ready to apply for college, you’ve likely heard about the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines your financial aid from the government and most colleges. Education is an investment in your future. For many families, the price tag creates financial stress and requires intentional planning. It doesn’t have to, however. With the help of SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards and the FAFSA, your college education can become significantly more affordable.

The Earlier, The Better

The best way to complete the FAFSA is early. Many students make a common mistake by waiting until after the application is released to submit their forms. For many reasons, this places students at a disadvantage. Many states and colleges use FAFSA to determine eligibility for non-federal student aid funds with early deadlines and limited funding. To ensure you’ll get the most out of your FAFSA award, submit as close to the opening day as possible (typically around Oct. 1st). It’s simple: the sooner you complete your application, the more aid you could be eligible for.

What You’ll Need

Completing the FAFSA isn’t difficult, but you will need some important information and documents to submit the application.

  • A Valid Social Security Number.
  • W-2 forms from two years prior and other records of any money earned.
  • You’ll need a Federal Income Tax Return from your parents and your own form as well—if you have one.
  • Records of any grants, scholarships, and fellowships included in your parent’s adjusted gross income.

For a complete FAFSA documents checklist, visit: https://www.nasfaa.org/uploads/documents/FAFSA_Checklist.pdffor more information.

Avoid Common Mistakes

When filling out the FAFSA, it’s essential to make sure that you submit a complete application to maximize your reward. Avoid common mistakes such as leaving too many blank fields, which may cause miscalculations and application rejections. Instead of leaving something blank, enter a zero or not applicable.

  • Avoid blank fields. Instead of leaving something blank, enter zero or “not applicable”. This can help reduce miscalculations and application rejections.
  • Avoid using commas or decimals in numeric fields - round to the nearest dollar instead.
  • Double check entries on supporting documents such as Social Security Numbers and driver’s license numbers.
  • If a parent does not have a Social Security Number - do not make one up. Enter “000-00-0000” instead.
  • It’s also necessary for all applicants to use their legal name. For example, your last name may be hyphenated. If it’s not listed that way on your birth certificate, don’t use it on your application.

Apply Every Year

We cannot stress this enough. Even if your financial situation has not changed, you still need to apply for the FAFSA every year to be considered for financial aid. If you’ve previously filled out the FAFSA form, you can opt to complete a renewal form to avoid creating a new application. Simply update whatever information changed in the past year, and you’re good to go!

SAGE Scholars

At SAGE Scholars, we deeply believe in the value and quality of private higher education. Our mission is to provide access to affordable college opportunities while bringing together families, colleges & universities, and benefit providers to create college funding solutions. Since 1995, SAGE Scholars has bridged the gap between students who want a quality private college education and colleges that will work closely with member families to ensure affordability — all at no cost to the student, family, or college. As the nation’s oldest, largest, and most trusted private college preparation and funding organization, we’re providing families with the guidance and resources they need for every step of the college process.
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