College financial aid is an important factor in many students' ability to attend their institutions of choice and it's really never too early to start the process with advanced preparation and proper planning. Financial aid is available from many sources, including the federal government, state programs, individual colleges and universities, and many private entities. Here are some of the most common mistakes that could cost you getting financial aid.
1. Assuming you won't qualify for aid.
One common mistake you definitely shouldn't make is to assume that your current financial situation disqualifies you from receiving college financial aid. Not all student aid programs are based on financial need. Also, federal financial aid eligibility is a complicated formula that takes into account student earnings, parent earnings, student and parent assets, age of oldest parent and number of children attending college. The only way you will know for sure if you qualify is to apply.
2. Missing deadlines
Missing required deadlines is an avoidable mistake that's all too common, especially if you're filling out numerous forms to a variety of financial aid sources. Missing application deadlines will automatically put you out of the running for a particular financial aid program even though you may qualify. The first step along the way to securing college financial aid is to complete an FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is a requirement in qualifying for any of the various federal programs but, even if you don't qualify for federal assistance, chances are good that any school or state funded programs will also rely on your FAFSA in their financial awards granting process. The FAFSA can be submitted beginning on January first for the upcoming school year. One mistake frequently made is waiting too long to complete this initial step of the process. Waiting too long and then rushing the process at the end will make committing errors more likely and, if time runs out due to delays, you may miss out entirely on certain financial aid until next year. Check with your school to see if they require additional forms for financial aid, such as the CSS Profile and beware of those deadlines as well.
3. Not correcting errors on your FAFSA.
It's not uncommon for applicants to make some errors in filling out this form, leading to delays and, sometimes, disqualification. You have a chance to correct these errors when you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), a few weeks after submitting the FAFSA. Make sure you review it carefully and submit corrections promptly.
4. Skipping questions on the FAFSA.
The FAFSA can be filled out online and is made simpler by now being linked to the IRS for ease in compiling the necessary tax information required for entry onto the form. This is a fairly lengthy form, containing more than 100 questions, and all questions must be completed in order for the FAFSA to be accepted. One common mistake is in leaving the answer to a question blank. If you see a question that doesn't apply to you or to which the answer is "zero," make sure you enter a "0" in that space.
5. Not applying for private scholarships.
Every year many college financial aid grants and scholarships go unclaimed due to too few applicants. Don't make the mistake of believing that financial aid resources are too limited or that the competition is too stiff. You may think that college scholarships only apply to those with remarkable academic ability, athletic prowess or high test scores but, in fact, there are many financial aid sources for which you may qualify that are unique (and even weird). Left-handers, duck-callers, men taller than 6'2" or women 5'10" or more in height, those who can speak "Klingon" or have the unusual last name of Van Valkenburg each have access to scholarship money for which they may quality. There are hundreds like these out there.
The mistake made by many prospective college students is to avoid doing the necessary research to discover every means of financial aid available to them. If you need money for college there may be dozens of sources for which you qualify but haven't uncovered. Start early in your search for these sources and be thorough. The Internet is a great tool for finding what's out there just waiting for you.