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Here’s an alarming statistic from Nicole Callahan at the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid: Two-thirds of high school students heading off to college for the first time list only one college on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
You wouldn’t dream of applying to just one college, right? Even though application fees average $40 and many schools charge $75 or more, it’s unusual for students to put all of their college eggs in one basket.
The FAFSA is free
It costs nothing to fill out the FAFSA — plus, it’s your ticket not only to federal student aid, but financial aid from your state, colleges and other scholarship programs.
You can provide your FAFSA information to all the schools you have any interest in attending, even though there’s only room for 10 schools on the form. If you want to provide your FAFSA info to more than 10 schools, just follow these steps.
So why do so many FAFSA applicants list only one college, when it would cost them nothing to add all the schools they might be considering?
If you’re afraid that adding more schools will hurt your chances with the ones you really want to go to, don’t be.
List all of the colleges you might want to attend
“Colleges can’t see the other schools you’ve added, so you should add ANY college you are considering to your FAFSA, even if you aren’t sure whether you’ll apply or be accepted,” Callahan says. “It doesn’t hurt your application to add more schools.”
To get a better idea of which colleges might be a good fit for you, see our list of college guides and rankings, and our roundup of tools for evaluating “college ROI” (return on investment — how the expected costs of getting a degree from a particular school stack up against future earnings potential).
Callahan’s got a bunch of other tips for FAFSA filing season, which is opening up on Oct. 1 — three months earlier than used to be the case. The new FAFSA timeline means students may get aid offers from schools they’re accepted to sooner, giving them additional time to consider the actual cost while they’re still researching their options.
The information you provide about your family’s income on the FAFSA is shared with the colleges you’re interested in, and determines not only what aid you qualify for at each school, but your expected family contribution toward the cost of your education.
First-come, first-served financial aid
Keep in mind states and schools set their own FAFSA deadlines. At California State University Fresno, for example, incoming freshmen have until Nov. 30 to apply for admission in the fall of 2017, and the priority deadline for FAFSA submissions is March 2, 2017.
Financial aid is often provided first-come, first-served basis, so Callahan advises to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible.
If you’re planning to file your FAFSA on or near Oct. 1, Callahan has another good piece of advice: Go get your FSA ID now. It can take up to three days before you’ll be able to use it. Your parent will need an FSA ID too if you’re a dependent student.
For more tips on filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, see Credible’s free FAFSA guide.