Try a Checklist to Avoid FAFSA Mistakes

When Evelyn Lee was applying to colleges as a high school senior, she knew that she would need financial aid to be able to afford to go.

But her parents, who are from Korea, were in no position to help her fill out the federal form — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA — necessary to apply for federal grants, loans and work-study funds .

“I remember feeling a little bit daunted when I first started because I just wasn’t sure what I was supposed to put in,” says Lee, now 25 and a 2014 graduate of California State University–Long Beach. “I kind of had to figure out everything myself.”

At 108 questions, the FAFSA is longer than a 1040 tax form, with questions about student and parent income, savings, family make up, number of students in college and more.

[Watch this video to avoid common FAFSA mistakes.]

“It can seem terribly intrusive , and it can be confusing,” says Peter Van Buskirk, former dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College and founder and president of Best College Fit. “There are a lot of nuances associated with questions that can leave you scratching your head about, ‘What should I put here?'”

Even so, the biggest mistake a student can make is not completing the form, says Kim Cook, executive director of National College Access Network, an association of college access and success programs. She says once a family gets started, the average completion time is about 30 minutes, although it may take more like 45 minutes for a first-time filer.

“About 85 percent of students who complete the FAFSA receive some sort of financial aid,” she says. “This is definitely an endeavor worth doing.”

Avoid glitches by being prepared, gathering key information, keeping track of deadlines and checking definitions , among other tasks.

— Know your deadlines: The FAFSA for the 2018-19 academic year will be available on Oct. 1.

And while technically the filing deadline is June 30, 2019, Cook recommends that families fill out the FAFSA in October or as…

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