Monday, February 1, 2010

I survived the FAFSA

A while back I went to a presentation at Eldest's school about college financial aid. The speaker directs fin aid at an Ivy League school. He said, "If there are only four words you remember from tonight, let them be these: NEVER MISS A DEADLINE." Amazingly, I remembered that.

I filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) last night. It's not difficult, but -- heads up -- you do need to have a pretty good idea of what your tax return is going to look like. Early. Very early. Keep track of your earnings info the year you're going to file.

The greater challenge is the CSS Profile, which requires far more information. (You want to supply more info about your expenses, since the Feds' formula is inanely simplistic and pretty much comes down to income and how many people are in your family.) I couldn't finish the Profile last night because apparently a bunch of colleges have Feb 1 deadlines for it, and the CSS system was catatonic. I was dumped and had to re-start a couple of times, which would have been stress-producing if I'd absolutely needed to file last night. So -- second heads up -- pretend your deadline's at least three days before it actually is, so that the empty spot in the nest next year isn't you (in jail for murder) instead of your college student. (Our deadline is Feb 15, so I'm waiting until Feb 2 to file the Profile.)

Eldest applied to three schools, two of which only require the FAFSA and the Profile. The third has its own form, which amounted to an "Is Your Parent Smart Enough for You to Go Here?" test. I think I passed, but only because it was open book and I was able to review my answers several times before submitting them. If your child plans to apply to a dozen colleges, check out how many financial aid forms you're going to have to complete before you approve her list.

Though I'm not really done with the Profile, I felt somewhat heroic last night. I can already see that this won't be as intimidating the second time through. I find it useful (though not enjoyable) to stagger through a completely new and unasked-for experience every now and then. I think that, as adults who have mostly mastered the little things in life, we forget how uncomfy new experiences can be for kids. I'm more sympathetic when I have a fresh memory of that AAAAAAck! feeling.


  1. Thanks for the reminder that being the parent of only one child is one long steep learning curve!

  2. You know what I hate? On-line forms where you can't proceed until you've finished one page, but you don't know what's going to be on the next page. They make me want to tear my hair out.