Each year, the U.S. Department of Education makes available more than $150 billion in federal financial aid, and processes approximately 22 million Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (also known as the FAFSA). For the 15 million students who accept it, financial assistance makes it possible for them to go to school. With a staff of roughly 1,200 in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid, that’s a lot of paperwork. And where there’s a lot of paperwork, there's potential for a lot of confusion.
So to clear these misconceptions and set the record straight, here are the nine most common financial aid myths it’s time to stop believing.
MYTH: The FAFSA takes too long to fill out.
FACT: From start to finish, filling out the FAFSA should take no more than 30 minutes to complete. Along the way, you can find step-by-step instructions and live help, available via web chat, email and phone, so you can submit the most complete form possible.
MYTH: Once the FAFSA is completed, it doesn’t have to be completed again.
FACT: For each calendar year you plan to attend school, a new FAFSA must be filled out and submitted. Depending on your personal financial circumstances, the amount of aid you qualify for may change from year to year, be it an increase or a decrease.
MYTH: Taxes must be filed before the FAFSA can be filled out and submitted.
FACT: The FAFSA is available on October 1 for the following school year, so you can use your tax information from April. Federal student aid is on a first come, first served basis, so the earlier you file, the better your chances for receiving the funds you need.
MYTH: There are so many people applying for federal aid, there just isn’t enough to go around.
FACT: The amount of aid for college students increases every year. Annually, over $150 billion is distributed to undergraduate and graduate students, traditional and nontraditional alike, in the form grants, federal work-study, federal loans, and federal tax credits and deductions. In 2014, the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students at a 4-year degree-granting institution receiving any type of financial assistance was 85%. Whatever the numbers, one thing is for sure – you have to apply to qualify.
MYTH: I’m too old to get any financial assistance.
FACT: Any and all funds granted to students are based solely on financial need. There is no consideration of age, race, gender, religion, etc. that are taken into account when aid is calculated and distributed. Adult students are just as eligible for aid as traditional students.
MYTH: Financial aid is free money, and it never has to be paid back.
FACT: While several categories of federal aid do not need to be paid back, like grants, scholarships and federal work-study, there is one type that is not free: loans. Loans are considered part of the financial assistance award because they help lessen the overall cost of your education, however, it is borrowed money that must be repaid with interest.
MYTH: Making too much money and declaring it on the FAFSA will disqualify me for aid.
FACT: There is no minimum or maximum amount that you must earn to qualify or be considered for financial assistance. How much money you or spouse makes is just one of the many factors that determine individual eligibility for federal grants, loans or work-study funds.
MYTH: I should receive enough financial assistance to cover all of my college expenses.
FACT: Financial student aid is assistance to help cover as much of the educational costs you are deemed eligible for. It cannot cover all costs, but it does help alleviate the overall cost of attending college. You can, however, use federal aid for more than tuition, books and fees; you can use financial aid to help pay for other expenses that are school-related, like childcare, transportation, purchasing a computer and more.
MYTH: Loans are not a form of financial aid.
FACT: Federal loans are considered part of the aid package because they help lessen the overall cost of an education, which otherwise may have been paid through other means.
Written by Thomas Edison State University