Avoid These Financial Application Mistakes


For many families of college-bound students, the financial aid application can be just as important as the admissions application. This week, our experts weigh in on the mistakes that students make every year on the financial aid application. It might just save you thousands of dollars! Heather Pierre of Lancaster, Pa., asks:

Q: What are the most common mistakes students make on the financial aid application?

A: Follow the directions on the FAFSA.

Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign The most common mistakes when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are easily avoided. These include:

• Mistyping the student’s legal name, social security number, and birthday

• Forgetting to enter the PIN for the student and parent before submitting, as this serves as the electronic signature for the FAFSA

• Not answering all questions correctly and completely

• Failing to update the family’s financial information immediately upon completing your tax return if an estimate was given prior to doing taxes

If you have any questions, be sure to ask a representative in your school’s financial aid office.

See all of Stacey’s expert admissions advice.

[Learn more about filling out the FAFSA.]

A: Mistakes on financial aid forms can cost you money.

Susie Watts, college consultant, College Direction Financial aid is available on a first-come-first-served basis. Making mistakes will delay the FAFSA form and could cause you to lose out. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

• When it refers to “you,” it is referring to the student.

• Don’t leave an income question blank—put in a zero instead.

• Most students under the age of 24 are still dependent.

• Avoid writing wrong social security and driver’s license numbers.

• Remember to sign and date the form.

• Don’t list your adjusted gross income as equal to total income.

• Remember to list colleges.

See all of Susie’s expert admissions advice.

[Follow seven tips to avoid FAFSA errors.]

A: Don’t wait—estimate.

Betsy Morgan, founder, College Matters LLC By far, the most common misconception about filing for financial aid is that one needs to file taxes before applying. Instead, families should gather up their financial data (pay stubs, bank receipts, etc.) and estimate.

On both the FAFSA and the CSS PROFILE, there is an option to indicate that while you intend to file taxes, you have not yet done so. This lets the colleges know that you are estimating. Try to get as close as you can to the real numbers, however, or your estimated award will not be accurate.

See all of Betsy’s expert admissions advice.

A: Keep track of your FAFSA pin; you’ll need it later!

Jim McCorkell, CEO, adMISSION POSSIBLE ® As simple as it may sound, students and parents should write down their FAFSA PIN and store it with the rest of their passwords where they won’t forget it. Lots of students waste time trying to find or remember their PIN and ultimately have to reset it every year—and many parents have to do the same! This simple step can actually save a lot of time and help the application process go smoothly in future years.

See all of Jim’s expert admissions advice.

[Explore the U.S. News paying for college guide.]

A: Complete the process accurately and on time.

Megan Dorsey, SAT prep & college advisor, College Prep LLC Every year students fail to receive aid due to application errors. A common error is failing to apply. Some families knowingly don’t apply under the mistaken belief that they make too much to receive aid. Others fail to complete the application. Some universities require school-specific forms or the CSS PROFILE, while others don’t.

Some students complete the application but submit incomplete or incorrect information, thus delaying the process. The final mistake is waiting too long to apply. Financial aid can be like going through a buffet—the people in the front of the line get their choice of the best offerings while those at the end may be left with table scraps. To ensure you receive the best possible offer, apply on time and make sure your application is complete and accurate.