5 Reasons Why Every Student Should Fill Out the FAFSA

by Reyna Gobel

The free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) has a bad reputation for being the fast track to student loan debt. However, it can be the opposite. Without filling it out, schools don’t know if you need scholarships or university grants.

Here’s why every family needs to fill out the FAFSA.

Less Fear of the Unknown

Finding the cash to pay for college is as scary as student loans. When you fill out the FAFSA, you’re going to get details on your financial aid award letter about the school’s options for paying for college. You can bring the financial award letters to your high school counselor to discuss other sources of funding not associated with the school to figure out how you can put together your full financial aid package.

For example, the school’s annual cost of attendance from textbooks to dorms is $20,000. The school offers a financial aid package including $14,000 in scholarships and $6,000 in loans. You bring the financial award letter to your school and let the high school counselor know you need $6,000 more to fund your education without borrowing. The counselor talks about local scholarships, workplace scholarships, and scholarships based on your talents. You may not get all of them but it brings you closer to your goal.


Schools use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine financial need for scholarships, too. But don’t fill out the FAFSA and feel like you’ve done everything you’re supposed to in order to receive money from your college. I received a $1,000 scholarship from my MBA program just for being one of the first 75 people to apply during the summer. Not a rarity. I received a $750 summer scholarship for standing in line on a specific day with a B+ average during my undergraduate years. Talk to the financial aid department every semester before registering to find out about additional scholarship opportunities and application procedures.

Unexpected Grants

Too often if someone doesn’t qualify for Pell Grants, federal grants based on income, they don’t think they qualify for any grants. This isn’t the case. State grants and university grants can have a range of income requirements. Try using Harvard’s net price calculator, and you’ll be amazed at income levels that qualify for some level of financial assistance. I plugged in numbers for a family of four in California who make $200,000 and a small level of need-based aid was available.

Subsidized Student Loans

While still a student loan, subsidized student loans don’t accrue interest during college or for specific periods of time. For instance, depending on your income level and payment, income-based repayment plans may not charge subsidized interest during the first 3 years. Also, if you qualify for an economic deferment, interest isn’t charged during those times either. Don’t deny these loans unless you’re positive you won’t have to do any borrowing. If you don’t fill out the FAFSA, private student loans are your only borrowing options.

Putting Yourself Out There

You can’t go to the senior prom without asking a date or being asked. Spruce yourself up (grades, community service, and essay writing), fill in your FAFSA and see what happens. Even if you don’t get one scholarship or grant offer, you’ll know where you are at before seeking other opportunities. So even if Johnny Financial Aid didn’t ask you to the prom, Jimmy Local Scholarship might.

Reyna Gobel, frequently quoted as an expert on student loans and college costs, speaks regularly at CollegeWeekLive and is a regular education contributor to usnews.com.

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