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The 7 costliest mistakes on the Renewal FAFSA

College • February 7, 2020 • 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. Below are 7 common FAFSA mistakes to avoid.


Avoid these 7 common FAFSA mistakes when filling out the Renewal FAFSA:

  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 grant, loans, and work-student funds each year to help students pay to further their education. In order to become eligible for your share of that aid, you must complete the FAFSA for every year that you attend school.

    The Renewal FAFSA will come prepopulated with some of the same information you provided on the FAFSA form last year to help ease the new application process. If you’d like to start from scratch and complete a brand new FAFSA, you are free to do that, too.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Not asking for help

    Even if you’re a second-year grad student and have successfully submitted the FAFSA application multiple times before, you still may have questions about the form. The good news is there are plenty of resources out there that can help you tackle your concerns.

    If you have questions regarding any deadlines, eligibility for aid, or the application process, contact your school’s financial aid office. The FSA also has their own Information Center that allows students to online chat, call, or email their questions about the FAFSA form as well.

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

And, remember, don’t forget to sign and date the application before you hit “Submit!”


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.” Reyna was compensated for this article.


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Reyna Gobel was compensated by Sallie Mae for the content in this article. However, all opinions expressed are her own.