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The 5 costliest mistakes on the Renewal FAFSA

College • September 26, 2018 • Reyna Gobel


What you’ll learn

  • What to watch out for when filling out the Renewal FAFSA

Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA the first time, filling out the form the next time feels like an exercise you can do without thinking. But the Renewal FAFSA has its own system for getting the most financial aid.


Avoid these 5 costly mistakes when filling out the Renewal FAFSA:

  1. Not filling out the form early enough

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

    I realized this mistake the first year I returned to college. I applied late and didn’t receive grant aid. I thought it was because I didn’t qualify. Wrong. The money had run out already from university and state grants. The next year I received a couple thousand dollars, partially because I applied earlier.

  2. Not filling out the special circumstances form

    The special circumstances form is available from your financial aid office. It’s there so you can report special reasons why the 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, or you or your family’s income decreased—this is especially relevant if you quit your job or reduced your hours to go back to school.

  3. Failure to name a transfer school

    Every school you’re thinking about attending should be listed on the form. If you don’t name a school you may transfer to, that school will think 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 federal 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 for which you’re eligible and the process of obtaining it based on the program you’re enrolled in.

  4. Thinking you couldn’t get financial aid because you didn’t last year

    College is a chance for renewal. For instance, your grades may be better in college 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 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 recheck free scholarship search tools such as the ones on College Board and Sallie Mae Scholarship Search.

  5. Not changing auto-populated information on the FAFSA

    Many things could have changed since you last filled out the FAFSA. While your Renewal FAFSA containing auto-populated information from last year can be helpful, you should check all the data to make sure it represents your current information, including your address and colleges you’d like to attend next year if you plan on transferring.

Get federal student aid every year

These Renewal FAFSA mistakes are easily avoidable and can save you thousands on college costs. Submit the most accurate and up to date information to qualify for college grants, scholarships, and federal student loans every year.


Reyna Gobel is a journalist, author, professional speaker, and educator who's been quoted by Money Magazine, Real Simple, and The Washington Post. She’s spoken at hundreds of colleges across the country about student debt—and she’s the author of "CliffsNotes Graduation Debt" and “CliffsNotes Parents’ Guide to Paying for College and Repaying Student Loans.”


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Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae.