INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WANE) — The window to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2021-2022 school year opened Oct. 1— and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education is encouraging families to apply as early as they can.
“Filing at the deadline is better than not filing at all, but the earlier the better,” said Barbie Martin, the Director of School and Community Outreach at the commission.
FAFSA is a form used to determine current and prospective college student’s eligibility for federal, state and oftentimes institutional aid.
“It is the best way to access free money for college,” said Martin.
“[Filing] sooner is important because a lot of colleges and universities have early action deadlines and a lot of their financial aid is first come, first serve… So the sooner you file, the more money you can potentially be eligible for,” said Martin.
Martin explained how in past years there have been technical difficulties that made the filing process more time consuming. Or sometimes people just get busy and forget to file altogether.
“So if you file early, you can just have it done and not have to worry about it,” said Martin.
Martin said anyone planning on furthering their education should file for FAFSA regardless if they think they will be financially eligible, because in Indiana there is “a lot” of available merit aid, which has nothing to do with someone’s finances.
“The worst thing that happens is you don’t qualify but in many cases it will allow you access to another scholarships and grants,” said Martin.
According to Martin, it takes the average family between 15 and 20 minutes to complete the filing process as long as they have all of the required materials together. However, if families have a complicated finical situation, such as owning a business or a farm, the process can take longer.
Some of the required materials include 2019 tax returns, W-2 forms, and banking information.
Martin named a few common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA form.
“One of the biggest mistakes we see is families not signing the FAFSA,” said Martin. “It’s a little confusing because you’re digitally signing but anytime you log in and make any change, even if it’s just one question, both the parents and the student have to sign the FAFSA.”
Another mistake frequently happens with with students who took dual credits in high school or completed an early college program.
“There’s a question on the FAFSA that asks if they are a first time college student and a lot of seniors say no because they’ve taken some college courses, but technically under that definition they are [a first time college student.]”
Martin also urged families to never pay anyone to help them file because there are many free resources, such as high school guidance offices or college financial aid offices, available.
“The first F stands for free, so you should never pay someone to help you file,” said Martin.
The FAFSA form can be completed at fafsa.gov. The deadline for filing is April 15, 2021.
On Oct. 25, College Goal Sunday will virtually take place. At the event, FAFSA experts from all across Indiana will be available to help all attendees with filing. For more information click here.