Across America, rising college freshmen and/or their parents are preparing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA.
A student cannot receive state or federal financial aid, such as a HOPE Scholarship or Pell Grant, without filing a FAFSA.
"The good thing about filing a FAFSA is that the federal government has really simplified the application process, especially for students who do it online," said Julae Grosz, associate director of financial aid at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"Right now, when filling out the FAFSA, mom and dad really start crunching numbers. It's the reality check of admissions," said Lee Pierce, UTC director of admissions. "Scholarship offers are out, you see what you qualify for and you have to start finalizing a plan."
"A lot of times parents go to the wrong website, one that charges instead of the free site. They go to FAFSA.com instead of FAFSA.ed.gov," said Sarah Broadnax, Tyner Academy counselor.
"Regardless of a family's income level, I encourage them to complete a FAFSA because situations change in a heartbeat. It's better to have things in place and not need them [scholarship awards] than to have situations occur and be in desperate need of trying to find money," said Dr. Margaret Smith, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences counselor.
Specific filing tips offered to students by the Federal Student Aid Information Center include:
Use your legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. Nicknames will cause a processing delay.
The words "you" and "your" on the FAFSA always refer to the student, not parents.
Remember to count yourself, the student, as one of the people in your household who will be in college during the award year.
If your parents are divorced or separated, the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months is the parent responsible for filling out the FAFSA. This is not necessarily the parent who has legal custody.
If the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA has remarried, the new spouse must report his/her income and assets on the FAFSA. Prenuptial agreements have no bearing on this requirement.
A legal dependent is considered to be a person for whom a parent provides and will continue to provide more than half of their support.
The Earned Income Credit is considered "untaxed income" on FAFSA. Other types of untaxed income include retirement-plan contributions, military food and housing allowances.
Whether filing online or off, sign the form (using your PIN online) and get all other required signatures. If you don't sign the form, you will not receive aid.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...