Paying for College

FAFSA Deadlines and Help

Question: What is the deadline for completing my FAFSA and who can help me?

You'll find FAFSA deadline information here: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm


You should also carefully check the Web sites for all of the colleges to which you're applying to see what each deadline is. You can find this information on the financial aid pages. Make sure you follow instructions for freshman or “first year” students. These deadlines can vary significantly from school to school so don't assume they're all the same. (It can sometimes be a treasure hunt to locate the information you need. Web sites can be woefully inconsistent, but it's critical to adhere to deadlines so never make assumptions.)

There is a lot of free help available. Start with the "Help" section of the FAFSA Web site at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/help.htm . You can also use their "Contact Us" link for more specific questions. See http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/contact.htm This will give you the option of holding a live online chat with a FAFSA staff member or asking your questions over the phone or via email.,

In addition, you can ask your school counselor if there is anyone at your high school or in your community who provides FAFSA assistance or you can call financial aid offices at the colleges on your list and ask for help there.

What you should NOT do is to pay a lot of money for FAFSA guidance. There are a number of private companies that prey on the fears of parents and students going through this maze for the first time. If you are "invited" to attend a "free" financial aid seminar, be wary. The seminar itself may be free, but don't be surprised if you are presented with scare tactics at the session. For instance, you may be told that one small mistake on your FAFSA could cost you thousands in financial aid or that there are countless scholarships that you will miss if you don't have the proper assistance finding them. Then you will be pressured to sign up on the spot for services that cost about $1,000. Don't do it!

As confusing as this process can seem, once you get started on your FAFSA, it may not be as complicated as you fear, especially if you use the free help sources noted above. You can also search for outside scholarships on free sites such as www.fastweb.com .

Finally, if you still feel that you want one-on-one help beyond what the free options can provide, order an hour of assistance ($150) from College Karma (go to http://www.collegekarma.com/college_counseling/college_counseling.htm and scroll down to the bottom of the page to where you'll see "Hourly advice.")

Again, the financial aid application process can be intimidating, but there is lots of help available so don't hesitate to ask for it if you need it.

(posted 1/12/2011)