Much of the information you’ll find about college financial aid (i.e., federal student loans, grants, scholarships, and employer tuition benefits) is geared toward students entering college right out of high school.
If you’re a “nontraditional” student returning to or starting college after already being in the workforce, you might think it’s not worth it to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Not so fast! Let’s take a look at 10 common financial aid myths that might help you change your mind about completing that application.
MYTH #1: I make too much money to qualify for financial aid.
The good news is, there is no income ceiling for federal financial aid. Your income is just one of several factors captured on your FAFSA, determining your eligibility for financial support. Scholarships, loans, and work-study are all examples of funding that may require a current FAFSA. In addition, your FAFSA is often used to determine eligibility for state or school-specific aid.
MYTH #2: My home equity will hurt my chances for financial aid.
The FAFSA doesn’t ask you whether you own or rent, so your home equity won’t affect your qualification for need-based federal aid. Most colleges won’t care if you own a home, but some colleges may require you to fill out a separate application that does consider your home equity for school-specific aid. Regardless, you may benefit from completing the FAFSA, to see how much federal aid you qualify for.
MYTH #3: I have money set aside in a savings account, so I won’t get any aid.
Having some money in savings to help pay for college is great—using money you have first is always recommended—but it doesn’t mean you won’t qualify for federal financial aid. There are many factors used to determine your financial aid allowances, and savings is just one of them. If you qualify for some assistance, consider using more of your savings to pay for books, transportation, or living expenses.
MYTH #4: I have to wait until after I file my taxes before completing the FAFSA.
Not true. You can complete your FAFSA, using estimated income information based on last year’s tax return. You can update the information, after you file this year’s taxes. This may change the amount of financial aid you qualify for, but it’s better to apply sooner than later. Many states and schools have deadlines well before tax time. Note: for further details, please visit Federal Student Aid.
MYTH #5: The FAFSA application is too hard and will take too long to fill out.
Not true. The whole application can be completed online in about 20 minutes. The interactive form includes step-by-step instructions and only asks questions that are relevant to you. If you’ve already filed your taxes, you may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically transfer your tax return data into your FAFSA. If you have questions as you go along, FAFSA help is available by chat, email, or phone.
MYTH #6: My grades from high school or past college aren’t good enough to qualify me for aid.
Don’t worry. Although merit scholarships reward students for their outstanding academic records, the FAFSA doesn’t consider grades for federal financial aid eligibility. That said, once you’re enrolled, you will need to maintain satisfactory grades to continue receiving aid.
MYTH #7: I’m too old to apply for financial aid.
Whether you’re just graduating from high school, or you’re old enough to have children who are entering college, you should fill out the FAFSA. Federal student aid is not awarded based on age. Period.
MYTH #8: I filled out the FAFSA before, so I don’t have to do it again.
Incorrect. You should fill out a FAFSA for every year you plan to attend college, until you are done with school. Financial aid is awarded on a yearly basis, so they need updated information each time.
MYTH #9: There’s not enough financial aid to go around, so I shouldn’t bother applying.
There are billions of dollars available to students every year, and nearly two-thirds of applicants qualify for some assistance. You may not get a full scholarship, but you might qualify for federal loans, work-study, tax credits, or deductions. You won’t know how much or what kind you will get, until you apply.
MYTH #10: I cannot make changes to my financial aid package, if my situation changes.
Once you complete your FAFSA, there are very limited circumstances in which it can be changed or updated. That said, if you’ve had significant changes to your financial or family circumstances, your school’s financial aid office may be able to help. Talk to a financial aid representative about your situation. They’ll guide you through the process, to get your financial aid package re-assessed.
The bottom line: You won’t know how much financial aid you can get, unless you fill out your FAFSA. So, what are you waiting for? Use Capella University’s financial planning checklist to help guide you through the financial aid process.