For high school seniors it’s time to fill out the FAFSA. If you don’t think you need to fill out the FAFSA, you need to read I won’t qualify for financial aid, why should I fill out the FAFSA? The Department of Education estimates the average time to complete the FAFSA, including gathering documents, to take two hours and it is two hours well spent. If you find yourself needing some help with the FAFSA, try these resources first.
Start with the People Who are Responsible for the FAFSA
The FAFSA website has several resources that can help you with the FAFSA. You can estimate your eligibility for federal student aid by completing the FAFSA4caster. You can also print out the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to help you get your information organized before you start the application.
Federal Student Aid-Filling Out the FAFSA
Download the Complete the FAFSA for a detailed guide to completing the application including help on specific questions.
NerdWallet has a FAFSA tutorial along with guides for various family situations. Users can also submit questions to be answered by the website’s counselors.
The FAFSA Help Guide takes you through filling out the FAFSA by showing each screen of the online application. You have to fill out contact information to get the PDF version but you can use the website version without having to give your information. You can go through the online version to see if it’s worth the trouble to download the PDF.
My FAFSA Assistant
This is a free series of videos provided by Fox College Funding. The video topics include “Non-Reportable Assets,” Taxable vs Non-Taxable”, and “How to Report College Savings Plans.”
Virginia Education Wizard FAFSA Tutorial
Video tutorial that takes you through each section but doesn’t provide step-by-step instructions. For example “This next section of the worksheet is asking you to check if your parents received assistance. For this section, please check all that apply.
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA)
Download the PDF on FAFSA Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid.
College Goal Sunday
Get free help in person by attending a College Goal Sunday event. The website lists scheduled events across the nation and has a list of items you’ll need to bring to complete the FAFSA.
Some states have agencies that provide assistance in completing the FAFSA. For example, the EducationQuest Foundation in Nebraska provides free help by appointment. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and the Finance Authority of Maine conduct In-Person Help Events.
Toll Free Help
Talk with a live person by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center: 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
Financial Aid/FAFSA Webinars
Several organizations offer financial aid webinars throughout the year including EducationQuest, Mapping Your Future, Zinch, and BigFuture. Some colleges also offer financial aid webinars such as Penn State, George Fox University and Hofstra University. Just search the web for “FAFSA webinars.”
Paid FAFSA Preparers
As in completing your taxes, families can choose to pay a preparer to complete the FAFSA. In the past, some companies took advantage of students charging them to complete a form that they were unaware that they could complete for free. So there is a great deal of emphasis on not having to pay to file the FAFSA and available resources to help with completing the form.
However, given that Mark Kantrowitz, an expert of the FAFSA, states in the New York Times that “Even a certified public accountant or certified financial planner may not have in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of federal student aid laws and regulations” you would think hiring an actual expert would be a good thing. If you decide you would rather spend money than time in completing the FAFSA, practice due diligence in selecting a provider.
And to keep a little perspective, read The Top Ten Ways A FAFSA Is Like A Colonoscopy