A new study out today shows that it literally pays off to ask for help if you're feeling lost while filling out your FAFSA. The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that low- and moderate-income financial aid applicants who received help from professional tax preparers when filling out their FAFSAs not only received more generous aid packages, but were more likely to apply for aid compared to those navigating the process independently.
The FAFSA can be daunting, and it isn't surprising to hear many students are intimidated by the process or skeptical that they will receive any need-based aid at all. Still, it's rare to see data on such anecdotal topics. The study was based on results from three groups. One group received help from several H&R Block tax professionals; the second received some financial aid advice, but did not receive personalized assistance; the third received no help in completing their FAFSAs. The results showed that it isn't enough to tell students to fill out the FAFSA and give them the form. The group with the most personalized assistance fared best in terms of how much funding they were approved for, and more generally, whether they would be going to college at all.
The federal government and higher education advocates have been working for years to come up with ways to simplify the financial aid application process. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 that recently passed in the House of Representatives includes a clause that would streamline the application and make it easier to understand for students. The study suggests that students who have trouble filling out applications or who avoid the financial aid process altogether for one reason or another are significantly less likely to go to college. Often the financial aid students receive is a determining factor in the campus they'll find themselves come fall, and if you don't apply for the need-based aid, no one is going to hand you any or often even urge you to fill out that FAFSA application.
Researchers from the study hope the results will lead to programming and services where students are not only told to fill out the applications as part of the college admissions process, but receive automatic assistance in completing their FAFSAs. If you're nervous about doing it on your own come Jan. 1 when the applications first become available for processing, ask for help. Browse through our site to find tips on landing the most free money and filling out the application correctly, as the smallest mistake can lead to delays in not only the processing of your FAFSA, but in the awarding of scholarships, grants and student loans that you're relying on to pay for that college degree.