Seniors: It pays to pay attention to the FAFSA

Seniors: It pays to pay attention to the FAFSA

NCSA Recruiting

Seniors: It pays to pay attention to the FAFSA

Byline: USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Kyle Winters was a standout high school pitcher who tossed seven scoreless innings in a major tournament during his senior year. That performance against some heavy-hitting future MLB draft picks helped Kyle earn a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. However, Kyle opted to play professional baseball and was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fifth round and played seven seasons for various minor league teams. Kyle is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

We’ve already talked about the importance of building a robust scholarship package for your student-athlete—and we can’t remind you enough.

While athletic scholarships can put a dent in college costs, full-rides, unfortunately, just aren’t the norm. So, it’s important to seek out all different kinds of aid, from need-based to academic scholarships. For parents of seniors, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opened on October 1, is the best place to start.

Yes, you should apply

The biggest mistake families make is not completing the FAFSA, or filling it out too late. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans and work-study funds administered by the U.S. Department of Education, and they’re much more borrower-friendly than private loans. So even if you think your income is too high to qualify, it’s worth filling it out. You might earn more help than expected, especially since it evaluates a variety of factors, including your age and the number of children you have.

And, yes, you should apply early

Timing is everything when it comes to the FAFSA. There are three deadlines to consider: college and state deadlines, which vary, and the federal deadline, which isn’t until June 30 of your student-athlete’s freshmen year in college. Even though federal aid isn’t distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, 13 states are issuing college aid this way for the 2018-19 school year. So, if you miss the college or state deadline, or apply too late, then you probably won’t receive much financial aid, if any. With the FAFSA already in action as of October 1, it’s important to check your state’s deadline now and apply on time.

Insider tip: In the past, students had to wait until January 1 to apply for the FAFSA. Last year, this date was bumped up to October 1 so that families could have a clear picture of how much aid they qualified for—and time to evaluate their options—before their child decided which school to attend. As a result, some colleges shifted their deadlines, too. According to a survey from NASFAA, 21 percent of private four-year colleges moved up their priority aid deadline and so did 15 percent of public four-year colleges. Make sure you research the deadline for every school your child is applying for.

Include the right information

There are quite a few documents you need handy when you apply for the FAFSA, but don’t let that list intimidate you. Here’s what’s required:

  • Social Security Number
  • Alien Registration Number (if you aren’t a U.S. citizen)
  • 2016 federal income tax returns, W-2s and other record of money earned
  • Bank statements and record of investments
  • Records of untaxed income
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically

Start by creating your student’s FSA ID (this could take up to three days to obtain), which is used to confirm their identity when accessing financial aid information. Dependent students will need an electronic signature of their legal parents, so that means you’ll need an FSA ID also.

Then, gather the rest of your paperwork. But before you dig up your 2016 tax returns (they always seem to be lost, don’t they?), start the application first and see if your income information can be pulled through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This tool was taken down last year after privacy concerns, but new security measures have been added, so luckily, it’s back up. It will automatically pull in pertinent income information into your financial aid form, significantly cutting down the time it takes to complete your application.

Lastly, make sure you’re reporting the right assets. Life insurance policies, home equity and retirement accounts are not considered in the FAFSA process. But all money in cash, savings and checking accounts must be disclosed, as well as real estate investments outside of than the family home.

Insider tip: If you’re filling out the FAFSA for more than one child, there’s a short cut you can take to transfer information over. After you complete the application for the first child, you’ll receive a confirmation page. And on that page is a hyperlink that says, “transfer your parents’ information into a new FAFSA.” Make sure you turn off your pop-up blocker before clicking the link.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the FAFSA. Let’s be real, any type of paperwork like this can be jarring. But knowing how much aid you qualify for—and maximizing your chances of receiving as much aid as possible—will help you set up your child for success.

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