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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? It may not be fun but it’s a good way to avoid leaving free money on the table. Besides, 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.
Actually, starting with the previous school year, the time is supposed to have decreased. It’s part of some of the major changes the Federal Government made to the FAFSA that started in 2022. This means that you need to pay attention to the publication date of the line-by-line resources designed to help students complete the FAFSA. If they haven’t been updated, they aren’t going to be very useful. Even the Federal Website, StudentAid.gov, doesn’t have all of the resources it had before because they’re still in the process of updating things.
Not surprisingly, my list off free FAFSA resources have changed. I dropped some because they weren’t updated and added some others. These were mainly step-by-step guides but did include one Federal resource as well. I expect that some I dropped will return next year as they catch up with the changes.
With all the changes, one resource to consider is your local college. I’ve been told by multiple sources that financial aid officers are willing to help students with financial aid questions even if they aren’t attending the school. I don’t actually know how universal this might be but if you need help, it can’t hurt to try. Otherwise, if you find yourself needing some FAFSA help, try these resources first. (If you have a favorite resource that I missed, let me know!)
There are plenty of web resources available. I think the following are some of the best places to start to figure out what you need to know.
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.
If you’re looking for help on a specific question, I highly recommend this website for free FAFSA help. The tutorial makes it very simple to find things quickly since it’s easy to tab through the sections with all the questions listed on the side. All you have to do is click on the area you need more information.
Many are familiar with the Khan Academy but may not be aware of its free FAFSA help. It has a paying for college section that includes a series of videos that walk-through the FAFSA as well as the PROFILE. The videos include transcripts which can be helpful in locating specific information. However, if you’re just looking for a quick answer, this probably isn’t it.
The financial aid office at New Mexico State has created a 31 minute walkthrough on completing the 23-24 FAFSA. The nice thing is the video is indexed for the different sections on the form.
This website pulls together a variety of resources from Oklahoma organizations for completing the FAFSA. Under the “Resources” section, you’ll find a PowerPoint by UCanGo2 that walks you through the FAFSA application (23-24). There’s an email where you can ask your questions and a general overview designed for parents.
The Utah System of Higher Education has a YouTube video that walks you through the 2023-24 FAFSA application.
The KHEAA has a FAFSA Completion Guide for 2023-2024 in PDF format. It’s only 4 pages but provides a good overview of the process and a “Helpful Hints” section that covers the most common issues students are likely to encounter.
NITRO has a guide where users can click on any question and it will explain why the question is being asked, how to answer the question, and any additional considerations.
These are the people who at the colleges who deal with financial aid. It’s probably a good idea to take a quick look at their FAFSA Tips & Common Mistakes to Avoid before starting.
This is by the Center for New York City Affairs and is not a step-by-step guide but does answer some of the most commonly asked questions students and families might have. It also has a Special Circumstances section including for students with no parent contact (23-24).
This isn’t a detailed question by question guide but it does cover the various sections and what students will need to complete it.
Pay attention for announcements from your high school and local libraries for these type of free events.
The National College Access Network has taken over the College Goal Sunday program. Get free FAFSA help in person by attending a College Goal Sunday/FAFSA completion event. The website links to resources and events in each state (it’s easy to miss, look at the bottom of the More Resources page.)
Some states have agencies that provide assistance in completing the FAFSA. The following are some of the organizations by state that conduct or list In-Person Help Events.
13. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
15. Invested (Indiana)
16. California Cash for College
17. Georgia Futures
18. ICAN (Iowa)
19. Finance Authority of Maine
20. College Foundation of North Carolina
21. Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance
22. MassEdCo (Massachusetts)
23. Minnesota Goes to College
24. VSAC (Virginia)
Students can talk to people in real time either by phone or social media platforms to get FAFSA help. Talk with a live person by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center: 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
Some states such as Indiana (317-715-9007) and (25) Texas (1-888-311-8881) offer their own hotlines where students can get help with the FAFSA.
You’re starting to see more social media options as well. Students can use chat at Federal Student Aid and visit the (26) Ohio Department of Higher Education on Facebook to get their questions answered.
Several organizations offer financial aid webinars throughout the year including:
(27) Mapping Your Future, and
(28) Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) .
Just search the web for “FAFSA webinars.” Unfortunately, too many of the webinars are either recordings that are available for replay or aren’t “real” webinars. In other words, it’s just a video and you can’t actually ask questions interactively.
As when 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 on the FAFSA, stated 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.
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