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Countdown to college: Should you bother to fill out the FAFSA?

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

Fill out the FAFSA? In a word. Yes.

To apply for federal student aid, such as federal grants, work study, and loans, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing and submitting the FAFSA is free and easier than ever, and it gives you access to the largest source of financial aid to pay for college or career school.

Many middle-class families have convinced themselves that filling out the FAFSA isn’t worth the effort because they have heard that only students from families earning less than about $50,000 get federal grants.

Some of the most generous private colleges award need-based aid to students whose families earn more than $200,000 a year. That means that a great number of families find themselves on the bubble, wondering if they should invest the time. The FAFSA isn’t that daunting. Honestly, gathering your materials to complete it is likely to take more time than it does to fill out the form. But the payoff in financial aid rewards could make a significant difference over the next four years.

Here are a few reasons that even the wealthiest families should fill out the FAFSA:

Need is a relative concept: Even affluent families can be “needy” when college costs $80,000 a year.


Scholarships: Some colleges, state agencies and scholarship foundations require the FAFSA to award scholarships and grants to middle-class and upper-middle-class students attending expensive schools.

Other aid opportunities: Some financial aid programs require a FAFSA even though they award aid without regard to family income. Some colleges also use FAFSA information as a deciding factor for students who are on the borderline for merit scholarships.

The official FAFSA form (www.fafsa.ed.gov) is now available. Since funds are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, even families who don’t anticipate receiving aid are encouraged to complete the forms as early as possible.

Will I be eligible to receive financial aid?


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