The 7 costliest FAFSA® renewal mistakes

Fill out the FAFSA® every year you're in school

Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA® the first time, maybe you feel like it’s no big deal to submit it for your next year. But the Renewal FAFSA® has its own system for getting the most financial aid. Here are 7 common mistakes to avoid.

What is the FAFSA®?

First, here’s a refresher on what the FAFSA® is.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) must be submitted for you to be eligible for grants, work-study, and federal student loans. When you apply, the federal government will process your application and determine your Student Aid Index (SAI) based on your income information. Your FAFSA® will then be sent to the schools you applied to, and they’ll give you aid based on your SAI. Once you get accepted into your schools, they’ll send you financial aid offers that outline how much aid they can give you in the form of:

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It’s super important to know that the FAFSA® isn’t a one-and-done thing—you need to keep filing the Renewal FAFSA® every year you attend school to continue to be eligible for financial aid. It comes with a lot of info pre-filled to make it easier to complete.

7 common Renewal FAFSA® mistakes

1. Not renewing the FAFSA® at all

Yes, believe it or not, this is a common mistake. According to the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), the government sets aside more than $120 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds each year to help students pay to further their education. That’s a lot of money you could potentially leave on the table if you don’t renew. To become eligible for your share of that aid, you must complete the FAFSA® every year you plan to attend school.

The Renewal FAFSA® has some of the same information from your first FAFSA® to make the renewal process easier, but you can always start a new application if you’d like.

2. Not filling it out early enough

Some state aid and university grants are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don’t fill out your Renewal FAFSA® as close to October 1 as possible, you may lose out on thousands of dollars.

3. Not filling out the special circumstances form

This form is available from your financial aid office. It lets you report any special reasons why your FAFSA® isn't an accurate statement of your current finances.

Here are a few reasons why your form could be inaccurate:

  • You got married since filling out the form and are now considered an independent student
  • You had a costly medical expense
  • Your or your family’s income decreased—this is especially relevant if you quit your job or reduced your hours to go back to school.

4. Not listing a transfer school

Every school you’re thinking about attending should be listed on the form. If you don’t add a school you’re planning to transfer to, that college may believe that you don’t want any financial aid. The same goes for a community college or summer program you might attend.

You may even be able to use financial aid to cover expenses for studying at a school overseas. Talk to your school’s financial aid office to learn more about the type of aid you may be eligible for and how to get it.

5. Thinking you can’t get financial aid because you didn’t last year

College is a chance for renewal. For instance, your grades may be better now than in high school, and you may have become more involved in sports or extracurricular activities that qualify you for more college scholarships. Call your financial aid office to see what types of scholarships you might qualify for this year. Also, talk to the office of your major to see if there are scholarships you might qualify for directly from them as well.

You should also check free resources like Scholly by Sallie,* the top college scholarship app. It’s helped students find millions of dollars in scholarships. Best part? It’s free and super easy to use. Simply tell Scholly Search® about your interests, background, and accomplishments and you can get matched with scholarships in just minutes. Then start applying. 

*By clicking the link, you'll visit our affiliate Scholly's site. Any information that we may collect or that you provide will be shared with Sallie Mae and will be covered under the SLM Education Services, LLC privacy policy and terms of use.

6. Not changing auto-populated information on the FAFSA®

While the prepopulated info on your Renewal FAFSA® can be helpful, you should check all the data to make sure it represents your current information—including your address, email, and colleges you’d like to attend next year if you plan on transferring. If your FAFSA® isn’t accurate, you could miss out on financial aid.

7. Not asking for help

Even if you’ve successfully submitted the FAFSA® multiple times before, you still may have questions about the Renewal FAFSA®. The good news is there are plenty of resources out there that can help you tackle your concerns.

If you have questions regarding deadlines, eligibility for aid, or the application process itself, contact your school’s financial aid office. The Federal Student Aid (FSA) website also has its own Help Section with FAQ’s for you to refer to, and an information center that lets you chat online, call, or email your questions.


These common Renewal FAFSA® mistakes are easily avoidable and can save you thousands on college costs. Make sure you provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to qualify for college grantsscholarships, and federal student loans every year.

One final tip: don’t forget to sign and date the application before you hit “Submit!”

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

footnote SLM Nitro College, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of SLM Corporation and Nitro by Sallie Mae is a service mark of Sallie Mae Bank. SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries, including Sallie Mae Bank and SLM Nitro College, LLC are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States.

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