No matter how much you may read about how to complete online applications — whether the Common App, the CSS Profile, the FAFSA, or a college-specific application — they still require hands-on learning. You need to jump in and start working through them to understand how to complete them.
I recently filed the FAFSA for the first time. I didn’t submit it as early as I wished, but the form is now done. [Let’s ignore the tweet I happened to see January 1st from someone who filed that day.]
Here are a few things I learned by doing…
1. Timing is everything. There would be far fewer questions about how to complete the FAFSA if it were due April 20, instead of ASAP after it becomes available online January 1. We would simply take a look at our recently filed tax forms, pull the numbers needed, and click submit. The problem is that federal money is allocated by the colleges on a first-come, first-serve basis, so filing earlier is better. Some states set a deadline of late February. We were able to get a draft 1040 worked up for the numbers we needed; we’ll validate the FAFSA after we sign our tax return.
2. Know your assets. Pension plan? Primary residence? College savings plan? You need to know which of your assets count and which don’t. The FAFSA treats assets differently than the CollegeBoard Profile does. Double-check FAFSA help.
Investments do not include the home you (and if married, your spouse) live in; cash, savings and checking accounts; the value of life insurance and retirement plans (401[k] plans, pension funds, annuities, non-education IRAs, Keogh plans, etc.).
3. Careful which buttons you push. Every time I saw these two buttons: “Clear all data” and “Start over” on the online form, I imagined the nightmare clicking either of those buttons would produce.
4. Instant feedback is helpful. As soon as the application is submitted, fafsa.ed.gov presents a confirmation for printing. That confirmation provides your confirmation number, graduation and retention rates for the colleges you’ve selected, and an estimated Expected Family Contribution, based upon the numbers submitted. Sure, it’s only an estimate, but it’s a step taken toward figuring out college costs.
5. It’s not over yet. Of course. There’s always another step.
- We should receive an email, after our taxes are filed, to remind us to link up taxes and FAFSA.
- Two days after submitting the application, Mod Squad Pete received his Student Aid Report.
- That same day he received an update request for the Profile detailing the long list of items they need to receive by March 1, including the signed 1040, all schedules, all 1099s, etc. Our final 1099 is supposed to be mailed mid-February…
Yes, the deadlines and complications continue.
- Catch-22: how and when to complete the FAFSA and your tax returns. (drstrangecollege.wordpress.com)
- 11 Mistakes I Don’t Want to Make on the FAFSA (drstrangecollege.wordpress.com)