The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid provides around $112 billion in federal student aid annually. Yet Student Aid’s FY 2021 Annual Report found that only about 61% of high school students applied for financial aid.
Here are the top 14 myths about student aid, debunked:
Myth 1: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form costs money.
FACT: Nope! The FAFSA form is free. The quickest and best way to fill it out is on fafsa.gov. Don’t complete your FAFSA form on websites that charge fees.
Myth 2: My family’s income is too high for me to qualify for financial aid.
FACT: That’s one of the most common financial aid myths, but there’s no income cutoff. Most people qualify for some type of financial aid, which range from grants and scholarships to loans and work-study programs. Many factors besides income — such as your family size and your year in school — are considered to create your financial aid package.
When you submit the FAFSA form, you’re also automatically applying for state funds and possibly financial aid from your school, including grants and scholarships. In fact, some schools won’t even consider you for their scholarships (including academic scholarships) until you’ve submitted a FAFSA form. And you can’t know how much financial aid you’ll get until you fill it out.
Myth 3: The FAFSA form is really hard to fill out.
FACT: Most people can complete their first FAFSA form in less than an hour. If it’s a renewal or you’re an independent student who doesn’t need to provide parents’ information, it can take even less time. Online, you’re asked only the questions relevant to you. And if you’ve filed your taxes, you can transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA form automatically.
Myth 4: I’m not eligible for financial aid because of my ethnicity or age.
FACT: Absolutely not. While schools have their own eligibility requirements, federal student aid eligibility requirements do not exclude based on ethnicity or age.
Myth 5: The FAFSA form is only for federal student loans.
FACT: Not at all. In fact, the FAFSA form is one of the most widely used tools to access student aid: one application for multiple types of funding. When you complete the FAFSA form, you’re automatically applying for everything from grants and scholarships to work-study funds and loans from federal, state, and school sources. States and schools can also determine scholarships and grants using your FAFSA information. And the funding can be substantial.
Myth 6: The FAFSA form kicks off on Jan. 1, and you have to submit it by June.
FACT: Nope! You have more time than you think. The FAFSA form is available on Oct. 1 for the next school year and there are three FAFSA deadlines: federal, state, and school. But the sooner you submit your FAFSA form, the more likely you are to get aid.
Remember, too, that when you submit the FAFSA form, you’re also automatically applying for grants, scholarships and loans from states and schools, which may have earlier deadlines than the federal deadline. If you’re applying to multiple schools, check their deadlines and apply by the earliest one.
Myth 7: I need to file my 2022 taxes before completing the FAFSA form.
FACT: No, you’ll use your 2021 tax information to apply for student aid for the 2023-24 award year. You do not need to update your FAFSA form after filing your 2022 taxes because only the 2021 information is required. If your financial situation has changed in the last year, you should still complete the FAFSA form with the 2021 information, submit your FAFSA form and contact the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to discuss how your financial situation has changed.
Myth 8: You have to have good grades to get a financial aid package.
FACT: Applying for admission into school is different from applying for financial aid. Good grades may help with academic scholarships, but most federal student aid programs don’t consider grades for your first FAFSA form. In subsequent years, you’ll have to meet certain academic standards defined by your school (also known as satisfactory academic progress) to continue receiving financial aid.
Myth 9: Since I’m self-supporting, I don’t have to include my parents on the FAFSA form.
FACT: Not necessarily. You need to know how the FAFSA form defines a dependent student. The form asks questions to determine your dependency status. You’ll also need to learn who is defined as a parent for FAFSA purposes. Requirements for being considered an independent student go beyond living on your own and supporting yourself.
Myth 10: I should not fill out the FAFSA form until I’m accepted to school.
FACT: That’s another widespread FAFSA misconception. Do it as soon as possible. To receive your information, the FAFSA form requires you to list at least one school, but you should list any schools you’re thinking about, even if you haven’t applied or been accepted. And don’t worry ― schools can see only their own information; they will not be able to see other schools on your FAFSA form.
Myth 11: I only need to submit the FAFSA form once.
FACT: You have to fill out the FAFSA form every year you’re in school to stay eligible for federal student aid, but filling out the renewal FAFSA form takes less time.
Myth 12: I should contact the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid to find out how much financial aid I’m getting and when.
FACT: No, the financial aid office at your school is the source for that information. The U.S. Department of Education’s office does not award or disburse your aid. Remember — each school awards financial aid on its own schedule.
Myth 13: The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount you have to pay for school.
FACT: The EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college, and it is not the amount of federal student aid you will receive. The EFC is a number your school uses to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Other factors ― the largest being the cost of your school ― contribute to determining both the amount and type of aid you receive.
Myth 14: I can share my FSA ID with my parent(s).
FACT: Nope. If you’re a dependent student, you will need your own FSA ID to sign your FAFSA form online, and so will one of your parents. An FSA ID is an account username and password that you use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education websites. If you share your FSA ID, you’re risking identity theft and your FAFSA form could be delayed.