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FAFSA Truths from a Parent That’s Been There, Done That

It’s a family thing!

Shawna Newman

October 28, 2021

A mother that has ventured through the FAFSA process for eight years, gives real-talk to other parents about to embark on the same journey.
FAFSA Truths from a Parent That’s Been There, Done That
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened up on October 1 for the 2022-2023 season. For some parents, the term FAFSA is a dreaded word—it's unknown territory. You’ve heard how important it is for your high school senior to apply for this if he or she plans on attending college next fall. FAFSA terms, like FSA ID, Expected Family Contribution, IRS data retrieval tool and more, place you in a foreign world. If you’re a parent with a child currently in college, you know you’ll have to make time to help your student renew their FAFSA. You’ve been there, done that; you’re fully aware of the time and commitment you’re about to make to ensure your child’s college dream becomes a reality. Plus, you don’t want him/her to have to worry about paying off massive student loans after their college graduation. It helps to hear you’re not alone as a parent. We reached out to Laura Hudgens, an Arkansan mother of four and Grown & Flown writer, to get her parental take on the FAFSA process. Hudgens has trekked the college admissions and financial aid application journey a few times. Her children have applied to and attended schools across the United States.
For the Hudgens family, the process to get to and pay for higher education is a family affair. While her kids did most of the work from the start of their freshman year of high school, each Hudgens family member has their “jobs” to support the process. Hudgens adds, “As an English teacher, my primary role is proofreading essays. My husband is ‘the FAFSA Guy’ and works with the kids on that.” She’s helped out enough with the FAFSA to “...know the process and to offer her kids moral support, and snacks.”
Below are Laura’s helpful tips, and parental insights when it comes to the FAFSA.

Tell us a bit about your children and your family’s FAFSA experiences.

Our eldest is 25–grown and married. We also have a recent college graduate, a college junior, and a high school junior. So, this will be our 8th year to fill out one or more FAFSAs and we have several more years to go.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest hurdle to completing the FAFSA?

For us, the biggest hurdle is just sitting down to do it. We dread it every year. It’s one of those things you dread for weeks, then feel great when it’s done.

How did/do you motivate your children to get their FAFSA done and/or submitted?

When it comes to getting money for college, our kids are pretty motivated. They know that we expect them to do all they can to get scholarships and grants. And they know that when it comes to scholarships, it takes more than just good grades, good test scores, or an impressive essay. There’s also paperwork. Always paperwork!

What tools or resources did you find helpful when your student and family were completing the FAFSA application?

My husband keeps a FAFSA notebook with all our passwords and notes from the year before. As long as we’ve been doing this, there is a lot of helpful information in there. We’ve also called the FAFSA hotline, and they have been great to walk us through any issues.

Did any of your children go through the appeals process to amend their financial aid award package from their university?

There wasn’t an official process, but one of our daughters requested more in merit scholarship for one of her top-choice universities. She wrote a letter to the financial aid office and let them know she was very interested in their university, but another school had offered her more money. She asked if they could match that, and they did.

As a parent that has been through this process, what’s the biggest misunderstanding parents have about the FAFSA?

I’ve had people tell me that they don’t plan to fill out the FAFSA because they know they won’t qualify for federal aid, but some schools require the FAFSA for merit scholarships as well. In our state, students who get a 19 or higher on their ACT and who maintain a 2.5 GPA in college get $1,000 a year as freshmen, $3,000 as sophomores and juniors, and $5,000 as seniors. It’s totally merit-based, but to receive this scholarship, you have to fill out the FAFSA. Our state Governor’s Scholarship which is also merit-based pays tuition, room and board, fees, and up to $10,000 a year, so that’s definitely worth the hassle of the FAFSA. But honestly, it’s worth it for even a relatively small payoff. The FAFSA always feels like a huge hassle to me, but it only takes a couple of hours, and the FAFSA HOTLINE really has been great when we’ve hit a glitch.

In addition to the FAFSA, what other ways do your children and family look for money to help pay for college?

My kids have gone after a lot of little scholarships–ones offered by local companies and businesses or offered for their specific field of study. For example, my son majored in agri-business and animal science, so he applied for several small scholarships offered only to students in those colleges. I’ve proofread a lot of essays over the years.

FAFSA Tools for Parents

If you’re a parent filing the FAFSA with your student for the first time, or a returning parent helping your student renew their FAFSA, know you’re not alone on this FAFSA feat. Much of the work comes prior to submitting or renewing the form. After you’ve nailed down a date your family will get it completed, and you’ve gathered the documents needed—the hardest part is over. Now’s the time to dig in as a family to get the FAFSA filed. Below are helpful tools and articles parents find useful: 2022-23 Financial Aid and FAFSA State Deadlines FAFSA: Financial Aid Resources & Common Questions FAFSA Checklist 10 FAFSA Mistakes that Affect Financial Aid

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