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How to Handle FAFSA Troubles

It's easy to solve problems with the FAFSA. You just have to know who to ask.

A student shares how he navigated different hurdles when filling out his FAFSA.
How to Handle FAFSA Troubles
College . . . is . . . expensive. No doubt about that. Many high school seniors, especially those in low-income families, question the premise of college due to its cost. There are many who argue that the value of college has diminished due to the increasing cost over the past couple of years. Luckily, there is the FAFSA. The FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is an iconic application for seniors in high school and students in college. Every year, we fill out the application in hopes of earning any work-funds, grants, or loans from the government to make college more affordable.

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Your aid is based on many personal factors: your parent’s income, the cost of attendance, and expected family contribution—and like the title, filling out the application is 100% free. All you need is an FSA ID to sign-in, as well as your parents. The FAFSA requires you to fill in basic, rudimentary information about yourself and your parents. This also means that some information requires some digging into personal documents: social security number, driver’s license number, or your family’s income. For students who are going to be first-gen students, filling out the FAFSA isn’t a walk in the park. Many students can’t get help from their parents because these parents never went to college, and so the process of filling it out is harder than it looks. Luckily, I filled it out—so I have some experience in my back pocket.

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My parents work on a continual basis, so whenever my mom isn’t working, we take the opportunity to sit down and fill out the FAFSA. Our plan was to fill it out in a time when we are not busy, not the last minute. A strategy that is really beneficial when filling out the FAFSA is to finish it ASAP. Even though the FAFSA deadline may be two or three months from now, getting it out of the way means that there is greater time that your FAFSA application will be processed. Finishing it a day or two from the deadline risks the possibility that it cannot be processed. You don’t want to be the person who calls Federal Student Aid on the phone and ask, Hey, can you give me some cash, please?

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Not only this, but whenever you have questions or concerns about filling it out, you have more time to email your counselors for help. For me, a student who filled out the FAFSA for the first time, there is bound to be a question here and there. I remembered my first time filling out the FAFSA application. My mom and I sat together in adjacent chairs while we scrolled down question by question. Filling out my personal information was very easy: my name, date, and age. However, when I got to the latter stuff, it was as though everything was coming at me all at once, especially the part where they wanted my family’s income. My parents, who didn’t have any experience whatsoever, had to rummage through the closet and drawers to find the documents. It was a hassle, but luckily, my mom found the documents—but the grind continued. Most of the questions were easy when we had the required documents, but after I filled out the FAFSA application, I waited and waited. After a couple of months, I got an email saying that the SSA couldn’t confirm that I was a citizen—even though I am. This baffled me since I thought I showed proof of my citizenship through my U.S Passport. Whenever I had a question that I couldn’t answer, I always emailed my guidance counselor since she was a great candidate for assistance. Unlike my parents, she handled the FAFSA with countless of students. I emailed my counselor about this interesting incident; she told me that the next step was to contact my Financial Aid Office at my school, University of California - Merced. When I send my documentation, my U.S passport and my certificate of birth, my college can validate that I am a U.S citizen. I e-mailed, Hey [counselor]. I hope you’re having a good weekend. I have a brief question. I checked back to my FAFSA, and I didn't get any financial aid, sadly. However, I also read this: The Social Security Administration did not confirm that you are a citizen. Provide your financial aid office with documentation of your U.S. citizenship (such as your U.S. Passport, Certificate of Naturalization or Birth Certificate). If the documents support your status as a citizen, the financial aid office at your school will make a copy of your documentation and can continue to process your federal student aid. However, I'm absolutely a citizen. Is there a financial aid office in the school that I can check? Here is her email: Good morning, Jason. Something in your application, the way you answered a question, might have triggered the response. No need for panic. Contact the financial aid office of all the schools you put on your FAFSA. Let them know you were asked to provide information about your citizenship and they will help you. From there, I was luckily able to prove my citizenship by filling out a UC Merced document that includes proof that I am a citizen. I filled it out, and I posted the necessary documentation online. Just like that, I was able to solve it and completely fill out my FAFSA. UC Merced thankfully validated that I was a citizen, giving me the chance to get federal aid. Funny enough, I didn’t get much.

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