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. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college athletes 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.
FAFSA season is finally here. As of October 1, high school seniors (including student-athletes) and their families can begin to determine how they’ll pay for college in 2019-2020 by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Submitting this form and having it sent to colleges on your target list can provide access to grants, scholarships, federal student loans and work-study programs. And this year, the US Department of Education is adding speed and convenience to the process by launching a free mobile app—myStudentAid. Here’s what you need to know about filling out your FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year.
Why should you fill out the FAFSA?
As college tuition continues to climb, securing financial aid you don’t need to repay is more important than ever. According to Sallie Mae, scholarships and grants covered more than 35% of college costs for 2016-2017—the highest in history. However, many students are still missing out on opportunities. The Class of 2017 for example left $2.3 billion in free federal grant money on the table. That translates to an average amount of $3,583 per eligible student.
Think your household income is too high to qualify? Well, you won’t know for sure until you submit your FAFSA. You could receive more financial assistance than expected, especially since the FAFSA evaluates a variety of factors, including your age and if you have multiple children enrolled in college at the same time.
Read More: FAFSA for student-athletes
Why should you use the FAFSA mobile app?
In the past, students and their parents would have to find time to congregate in front of the computer and fill out the form together in one sitting. With the app, you can start the form on one device and complete it on another—your progress is automatically saved as you go. This means students and parents can add information separately on their own time.
The FAFSA website estimates it takes less than an hour to complete and submit a new application. By using the app—which presents one question at a time on the screen to make the form less overwhelming—the process should be even faster.
While many lower-income students and their families don’t have internet access or a computer at home, nearly 80% of Americans own a smartphone according to the Pew Research Center. In 2017, 36% of high school graduates didn’t fill out the FAFSA. With the launch of the app, the Department of Education is hoping more students will complete their FAFSA and take advantage of student aid opportunities.
When should you fill out the FAFSA?
The earlier the better. Many schools have a limited amount of financial aid that they dole out on a first-come, first-serve basis. Plus, the sooner you find out how much assistance you qualify for, the sooner you’ll be able to determine if a college is financially right for you and your family.
Traditionally, you had to wait until January 1 to fill out your FAFSA with information from the previous year’s tax return. In 2016, the timeline was bumped up by three months. The current FAFSA form now allows families to provide tax information from the year before. For the 2019-2020 school year, you can use your 2017 tax return.
Read More: 6 common FAFSA mistakes to avoid
What do you need to fill out your FAFSA?
Before you begin filling out your FAFSA, make sure you have the following items on hand:
- Student Social Security Number
- Alien Registration Number if you aren’t a U.S. citizen
- 2017 federal income tax returns, W-2s, other records of money earned
- Bank statements and record of investments
- Student Driver’s license number (if they have one, but not required)
- Federal Student Aid ID (parents and students need to create separate IDs)
- List of schools you’re interested in attending (each school receives your financial information after you’ve completed the form)
FAFSA and your recruiting process
While athletic scholarships can help ease college costs, full-rides are an exception—not the norm. For student-athletes, filling out the FAFSA provides an accurate snapshot of total college costs versus financial assistance offered by the coach. In some cases, understanding how much federal financial assistance you’re eligible to receive can allow you to leverage multiple offers and earn a larger athletic scholarship.