By: Paul Wrubel
It’s BAAACK! Yes, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is here once again spreading its annual outbreak of angst among our college-bound populace. While I don’t wish to go through it line by line, I do want to highlight some issues to help struggling Americans navigate it in a reasonable and responsible way. Since the electronic form may differ from family to family, I will use as my model the paper version because it covers the full array of questions regardless of personal differences between families. You can download the 2012-2013 paper form at the FAFSA website www.fafsa.gov. The answers below are scaled to it.
First, unless the student is independent or parents are functionally fluent only in Urdu or Swahili, it is a good idea for PARENTS to take the lead in completing the FAFSA. I realize that the FAFSA by its wording expects students to complete the form but the stakes are far too high for that. To turn the kids loose on the FAFSA would be like saying to them, “It’s OK to go to the living room and play with fire. Be sure to use lots of tissue paper and model airplane glue.”
Step One: (Student)
There’s nothing too startling in this section but here are a couple of alerts.
8. Social Security Number: Be sure to proofread the student’s social security number. One teeny mistake on one digit will result in the student becoming immersed in a bureaucratic “black hole” from which he or she may never emerge. Social security numbers are important in the student identity process.
10. Permanent Telephone Number: Use the main number at the place the student lives. Do not use cell phones unless there is no land line at the residence.
15. Student’s email address: I think it is a good idea to include it. As a general rule anything that enhances communication between the FAFSA people, the colleges and the student is a plus. Before you put in the email address, check it out to see if there is anything suggestive in it. For a student to be applying to a college, it would not be the greatest idea to include an email address like “email@example.com”.
21 and 22. If the student is male and 18 and has not registered for selective service (the draft) or will turn 18 during the 2012-13 school year, you should check “Register me” on 22. Even if you are strongly anti-war, let yourself be registered. Truth be told, you are probably safer in the military than on many of our nation’s streets. At any rate, let yourself be registered because if you don’t you will be ineligible for federal aid, a major source of financial aid for college. There are lots of words for this; “blackmail” would work.
23 and 24. Parents schooling: The operative word here is “completed”. If a parent does not have a 4-year college (bachelor’s) degree, the answer should be “high school”. If neither parent has a 4-year degree, this student can be considered a “first-generation college student” making him/her eligible for more federal aid programs.
29. Grade level next year: Even if the high school student has taken a couple of classes at a local community college, enter “Never attended…..” If you enter anything else, there may be a delay in the awarding of aid while the new college verifies that you have never received need-based federal aid from a previous college.
31. Work/study: This is primarily a character question. Work/study is considered to be a form of “self-help” aid. So if you say “no” and you need aid, the college may think that since you are unwilling to help yourself, there is no compelling reason for the college to help you either. Say “yes”.
To see the complete post and more FAFSA survival tips, visit Paul’s blog.
Dr. Paul R. Wrubel holds four degrees. He received a BA from Middlebury College, an MAT from Wesleyan University and a Masters and PhD from Stanford University. His professional experience encompasses a decade of teaching in a Connecticut public high school and an 8-year stint in administrative roles in California that included serving as the Principal of Gunn High School in Palo Alto.