8 Common Mistakes FAFSA Applicants Make

Every year, the federal government allocates $120 billion to support families with higher education tuition costs. In order to receive this funding, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The FAFSA is a complicated form, and it can be easy to make a mistake that could ruin your chances of getting the funding you need. Money.com explains the eight most common mistakes applicants make so you can avoid them.

1. Not Filing At All

The Brookings Institute found that one in seven students who qualify for financial assistance do not submit the FAFSA. Mark Kantrowitz of Savingforcollege.com told Money.com that in 2016, over 2 million students could have received a Pell Grant if they filed their FAFSA. In other words, make sure you file.

2. Not Understanding The FAFSA Or Its Benefits

Most people may have a surface level understanding of the FAFSA: it’s a form, it’s complicated, but it helps them get money for school. However, there is much more to the FAFSA than that. 

When you complete the FAFSA, the government will send you a Student Aid Report containing your household’s expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is how much the government believes your household can afford and plays a large role in the amount of financial aid you qualify for. 

3. Not Preparing

If you take some time to plan and organize your resources before filling out the FAFSA, you will significantly reduce the chance of making a mistake.

The first step is obtaining an electronic signature, or an FSA ID, by visiting fsaid.ed.gov. This signature is necessary to sign your electronic form. You and your parent will both need an FSA ID as well as:


  • Your Social Security numbers or Alien registration numbers
  • Your Driver’s license or government-issued ID
  • The amount of money in your bank accounts, including on-hand cash
  • Duplicates of your 2018 tax returns, W-2s, and 1099s
  • Investments, aside from your family home
  • Records of tax-exempt income such as child support or alimony


Even if you don’t have all the necessary materials on hand, you can begin the application process and save the rest once you have them. 


4. Not Filing Early

Because most state colleges provide financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis, you want to make sure your application is one of the first in line. Applying early is particularly critical this year since there will likely be a higher-than-average number of applicants due to the recession. Visit your university’s website, note important deadlines, or visit studentaid.gov to view a list of deadlines in every state.

5. Not Applying On The Correct Website

Unsuspecting families and students may use the wrong website when they file their FAFSA. Scammers or companies that charge for assistance frequently run these sites. Keep in mind that the FAFSA is always free and that there is no charge to file. Always check for typos and that you are visiting fafsa.gov.

6. Not Double-Checking Your Information

Mistakes happen, but the FAFSA is not the time to let them happen. Often, applicants will mix up parent and student details, forget to sign the form digitally or answer a question incorrectly. If you happen to make a mistake when answering an item, you can fix it directly on the FAFSA site. 

Additionally, take another look at your Student Aid Report to make sure everything is accurate. Another indication of a mistake is an unusually large Expected Family Contribution amount.

7. Not Appealing Your Financial Aid If Your Finances Are Different

You should submit a new FAFSA form any time you or your family’s financial circumstances change. If you or your family were among the millions who have lost their jobs or experienced some income disruption this year, you must file an appeal because the FAFSA bases aid on information from the last two years. 

You will also need to send an appeal to each university you want to attend. You will need to submit proof of your changed circumstances, so call the college’s financial aid department to determine what information you need to provide. 

8. Not Using Student Loans Correctly

When you submit the FAFSA and your university distributes your financial aid, the next step is to receive federal loans. Many people mistakenly borrow the full amount they were offered without considering how much they will use. However, if you take a large loan and don’t use all of the funds, you will be stuck paying it back — with interest. 



  • Kuchar, Kristen. “9 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Federal Financial Aid.” Money, 27 Oct. 2020, money.com/fafsa-financial-aid-mistakes/.