By Shannon Elward, Indiana Commission for Higher Education

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Maybe you’ve heard about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s the form high school seniors and college students fill out to apply for financial aid for college. The FAFSA opens up federal, state and institutional funding, so you’ll need to file it to receive most kinds of financial aid – from grants and scholarships to work-study and loans.

While the FAFSA can seem scary – especially for first time filers – it’s an important step in the college-going process. Be sure to avoid these 5 common mistakes.

1. Not filing the FAFSA

Don’t think you’ll qualify for financial aid? Still fill it out. Most people know that the FAFSA qualifies you for federal and state financial aid, but most colleges require you to file a FAFSA in order to qualify for all kinds of grants and scholarships they give out to students, too. If you don’t fill it out, you’ll never know what kinds of options may be available.

Not sure you’ll attend college next year? Still fill it out. Filing the FAFSA doesn’t commit you to anything. But, plans change, and it’s better to be prepared.

2. Not listing schools

The FAFSA provides your financial information to the colleges you list on it, so you should list all of the colleges you’re applying to. You won’t know what kinds of aid you’ll be eligible for until after you file, so don’t rule out a college based on price alone.

3. Using the wrong income information

To file the 2021-22 FAFSA, you should use information from your 2019 taxes. Make sure you know what all you need to list and don’t need to list. Over or understating your income could delay – or disqualify – you from your financial aid.

If you are under 24, you will probably need your parents’ or guardians’ income information in addition to yours. Find out more about that here: studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out/dependency.

4. Not submitting your FAFSA on time

Indiana’s FAFSA filing deadline for the 2021-22 school year is April 15, 2021, so you should definitely file before then. But, some colleges have financial aid deadlines before April 15th, and sometimes aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis. You don’t want to miss out on those potential dollars, so file as soon as you can.

5. Ending your search with the FAFSA

The FAFSA can qualify you for a lot of different kinds of financial aid. But don’t forget about local and national scholarships, too. Talk to your school counselors, the financial aid office at the college you hope to attend and search for scholarships on your own on websites like FastWeb.com and Scholarships.com.

Ready to file?

Make sure you have everything you need on this list before you get started. Once you’re ready, you can file at FAFSA.gov.

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