College  |  July 28, 2022  |  Jenn Ruiz

The 7 Costliest Mistakes on the Renewal FAFSA®  

What you’ll learn
  • What is a Renewal FAFSA®
  • Renewal FAFSA® mistakes you can avoid
  • Why it’s important to submit your Renewal FAFSA® early
  • How to find scholarships

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 a Renewal FAFSA®?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) must be submitted to be eligible for grants, work-study, and federal student loans. But it’s important to know that you need to keep filing one—called a 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 

Once you've filled out the FAFSA® the first time, filling out the FAFSA® renewal 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 mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA® renewal form.

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. In order to become eligible for your share of that aid, you must complete the FAFSA® every year you plan to attend school.

The Renewal FAFSA® will come prepopulated with some of the same information you provided on your first FAFSA® to help ease the financial aid renewal process. If you'd like to start from scratch and complete a brand new application, you can always do that. 

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.

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 submitted the Renewal FAFSA® earlier.

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 for which you’re eligible and how to get it, based on the program you’re enrolled in.

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 double check free resources like the Sallie Mae Scholarship Search.

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

Things may have changed since you last filled out the FAFSA®. While the auto-populated 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.

7. Not asking for help

Even if you’re a second-year grad student and have 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 FSA also has its own Help Section 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 grants, scholarships, 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 Reyna Gobel was compensated by Sallie Mae for the content in this article. However, all opinions expressed are her own.