Vaunting more than required 100 questions, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) can vex future college students and their families. As with any lengthy form, mistakes or omissions happen. In other instances, an applicant’s familial or financial status may have changed.
Thankfully, those who want to make FAFSA corrections or adjustments aren’t destined to be stuck in paperwork purgatory. There are ways to update information or amend errors on the application—both before and after it’s submitted.
The FAFSA is used by current and hopeful students in the United States seeking federal financial aid to help pay for their undergraduate or graduate education.
To determine if a student is eligible to receive federal aid, a FAFSA form must be completed in its entirety by the yearly deadline. Federal student aid includes grants, work-study, and educational loans. (Each college and state might have unique FAFSA deadlines, as well, for need-based aid and scholarships).
Still, with so many complicated questions to answer, it can be confusing for first-time applicants to know how to fill out the FAFSA—this FAFSA guide can help applicants navigate the maze of the federal student aid process.
FAFSA mistakes aren’t unheard of (or unfixable). Luckily, most errors can be amended. Below is an overview of how to make FAFSA corrections (along with a few tips on how to prevent common FAFSA errors in the first place):
Filling Out the FAFSA: What Are the Questions?
Containing more than 100 questions, the FAFSA isn’t a simple form to tackle. Many questions require applicants to complete a bit of homework ahead of time—asking for specific personal and financial details, such as social security number, income and the value of assets.
An incorrect answer, even if input unintentionally, could lead to a delay in receiving funds or even a complete denial of the application for federal financial aid. Because many states and universities also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for local scholarships or grants, missing a deadline (or incorrectly filling out the form) could cost applicants thousands in potential funding.
Before learning how to complete the FAFSA, applicants may want to gather any personal information or financial details required by the application. Many of the FAFSA questions cover topics, such as the following:
• Personal identification information
• Citizenship status
• Marital status
• Criminal history
• Intended degree
• Assets (including investments and real estate)
• Parental information
• Income tax
• Employee status
Although it may seem that questions in the categories listed above have straightforward answers, there are several ways that FAFSA errors can take applicants by surprise.
Some common FAFSA errors include:
• Using a non-legal name or nickname
• Numerical mix ups in phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers
• Confusing earnings and taxable income amounts
• Not including step-parent information
• Skipping a question (or leaving fields blank)
• Not finishing the whole application
In many instances, a FAFSA error can be corrected. But, the process varies depending on the type of error.
Oops! How to Make FAFSA Corrections
Since a FAFSA error can slow down or stop someone from getting the funding they may need to pay for college, FAFSA applicants might want to remedy mistakes as soon as they become aware of them. So, how might an applicant go about making FAFSA corrections, updates, and changes?
Here are some common FAFSA errors and how to address them:
Incorrect Social Security Number
If an incorrect Social Security number is included on a FAFSA, it’s recommended to submit an entirely new form. Submitting a new FAFSA is often the easiest and fastest way for individuals to fix the wrong Social Security number.
Just keep in mind that a new submission will also change the FAFSA submission date, which could create complications if in-state or school-specific deadlines have already passed.
In that case, applicants can reach out to a financial aid office at one of the schools listed on the FAFSA (up to ten can be included on an online form) and ask if they can electronically adjust the social security number.
All FAFSA information must be accurate at the time of submission. But, if a student’s legal status (e.g., dependency or marriage) has changed since submission, speaking to the appropriate financial aid office to determine if an update is required is one good first approach.
In most cases, an update will only be necessary if an application is selected for verification (about one third of all FAFSA applicants are selected for verification). Some individual universities may also opt to verify FAFSA data for all admitted students.
Incorrect Contact Information
Contact information, including mailing and email addresses, can be electronically updated as needed.
Updating School List
Schools are added to a FAFSA using their six-digit Federal School Code. No more than 10 schools may be listed on the online form at one time. But, this list may change throughout an applicant’s college search. So, it’s possible for applicants to add or subtract a college or university from those initially listed on their FAFSA. To replace a school, an applicant with an FSA ID can simply add the new code over an eliminated code by logging on to fafsa.gov.
FAFSA Correction Options
There is more than one way to make a FAFSA correction. To make FAFSA changes online, visit fafsa.gov and complete the following steps.
Choose the “LOG IN” button and enter the corresponding FSA ID. Find the “My FAFSA” page and select “Make FAFSA Corrections.” After creating a save key, applicants can then change the necessary information and submit it for processing.
FAFSA changes may also be printed and mailed. But, snail mail can significantly delay the approval process. If an applicant prefers to submit corrections by mail, it could be beneficial to do so several weeks before the deadline. If time is a concern, some changes can be electronically made on the back end by a school’s financial aid office.
How to Avoid Common FAFSA Errors
Sometimes, FAFSA corrections are necessary due to an unforeseeable change in circumstances. But, several common errors that could be avoided entirely with a little pre-planning and foresight.
Here are a few tips applicants may want to chew over, before filling out the FAFSA:
• States and schools have their own varying FAFSA deadlines. Applying as early as possible can help applicants to set aside enough time to make changes or corrections to the form.
• Online applications are typically processed faster than paper forms. Applying online also helps students skip unnecessary questions using skip-logic and may even catch errors before the form is submitted.
• Using the IRS data retrieval option, if available, can allow applicants to populate the online FAFSA form with required data pulled straight from the IRS tax records. Data entered this way cannot be edited, however.
• Reviewing answers before submitting may seem obvious. But, by spending a few minutes double checking that every question has been answered thoroughly and accurately, students can then submit their FAFSA with more confidence.
• Only legal names must be used on the FAFSA. Using nicknames or assumed names may cause an application to be denied.
• Permanent addresses are best. Including a temporary address on a FAFSA can lead to delayed or lost corresponding mail, which could in turn endanger an applicant’s eligibility for federal aid. Whenever possible, using a permanent address, like a parent’s home address instead of a college dorm, can help lessen the risk of missed correspondences.
• Marital status listed on a FAFSA must be as of the filing date. So, even if a wedding is planned for the near future, the applicant would list themselves as single. This applies to same-sex marriages as well.
• Checking parental information for accuracy is one way to avoid submitting incorrect information. Failure to include a step-parent in the parental information section is one common error. If a custodial parent is filling out the FAFSA and they’re married, the step-parent’s income and assets must be reported as well.
What to Do if FAFSA is Denied
Not everyone who applies for federal student aid is approved. Here are a few reasons why an application could be denied.
Not Meeting Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for federal student aid, applicants must be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the United States. They must also have a valid Social Security number and high school diploma (or GED). Other requirements include enrollment in an eligible program as a student seeking a degree or certificate and satisfactory academic progress. Failure to meet just one requirement can result in ineligibility.
Applicants for another round of federal aid who’ve already defaulted on an outstanding student loan could find their FAFSA denied. Federal loan repayments must be up to date before additional federal aid can be approved and awarded. So, prospective students with outstanding student loans may want to check their repayment status at the get go.
Students convicted of certain crimes may be denied federal student aid, despite meeting all other qualifying criteria. However, the timing of one’s conviction matters. If convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs, while receiving federal aid, students will likely be disqualified from receiving future aid.
However, students can regain eligibility by enrolling and completing approved rehabilitation programs or by volunteering for random drug testing.
Other Ways to Pay for College
If an error on the FAFSA is the reason why a student is found ineligible for federal aid, they can attempt to correct it. But, in some cases, the denial either cannot be reversed or the amount awarded won’t be enough to cover the total cost of attending college (including living expenses). If students have exhausted federal options for funding their studies, they may want to evaluate additional ways to pay for university, including:
Private Student Loans
While students should always exhaust all federal options first, there are additional resources that could help some pay for a certificate program, undergraduate degree, and graduate school.
Grants and scholarships are available through state and federal programs, alongside some that are managed by nonprofits and private businesses. Money from grants and scholarships doesn’t typically have to be paid back. And, scholarships and grants can be combined with other sources of aid, like federal loans or grants, to help cover costs.
Educational loans disbursed by a private lender are one other way for students to fund the furthering of their education. It’s important to note that private student loans do not come with the same repayment options that are baked into federal aid.
Still, for students who do not qualify for federal loans or who need additional funds to cover the cost of college, private student loans may help bridge the gap.
Forgoing Federal Aid
It is possible to attend college without relying on federal financial aid. While some students may have the family funds to pay for tuition and living expenses, others may not have access to the same financial resources.
Indeed, certain students opt to work while pursuing higher education, taking fewer credits per year but also spending less in the short term on tuition and books. With grit and discipline, it’s possible to earn a degree, all while continuing to make a steady paycheck.
Finding ways to save throughout college is an option many students opt for. By staying local, living at home or sharing housing with roommates, and buying used books, students can shave off thousands of dollars per year in tuition and non-tuition costs.
Some state-funded university systems, as well, offer lower tuition to in-state residents, including a few that might give high-scoring local students tuition waivers or full-ride scholarships.
Getting Started with Financial Aid
Federal loans offer several advantages, including income-driven repayment options and forbearance. They may help make paying for a post-secondary education less stressful. But, once federal student aid options have been tapped out, other student loan options may still be needed to pay for college.
Private lenders, like SoFi, offer in-school loans to help cover the total cost of attending college. SoFi’s no-fee private student loans come with flexible repayment plans and competitive rates.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
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