Niche Resources
Niche Resources
Niche Resources
woman enjoys doing paperwork

Fear Not: 8 Ways to Make the FAFSA Fun

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

For you, is filling out the FAFSA like going to the dentist? 

For a root canal?

Okay, okay, maybe it’s not that bad. 

But no matter how you’re feeling about it, you can make the FAFSA fun. (Yes, it’s possible!)

What is the FAFSA?

First things first. What is the FAFSA? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. States and individual colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award grants, scholarships and loans. In addition, your child has a chance to qualify for federal aid through the FAFSA.

However, that aid is limited. You need to file the FAFSA as soon as possible. The 2021–2022 FAFSA form was released October 1, so now is a perfect time to file. 

Click “Start Here” on the FAFSA homepage to get started.

When is the FAFSA Deadline?

Great question! Technically, there are two: a federal deadline and an individual college deadline. 

Federal Deadline

You must file the FAFSA by June 30, 2022 if your child plans to attend college in the fall of 2021. Straight from the FAFSA website: “FAFSA forms must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on September 10, 2022.”

That might seem like it’s a lifetime away (June!?), but your child’s senior year goes by fast! 

College Deadlines

Each college has its own FAFSA deadline. Colleges offer a specific amount — a “bucket” of money to pull from — to award scholarships and other aid. That’s why it’s important to note all the deadlines for the colleges your child may attend.

Your No-Nonsense, No-Stress Guide to the FAFSA

Making the FAFSA Fun (or at Least, Less Painful)

Don’t grit your teeth and suffer through it. Do the prep work then turn up the music, bust out the snacks, get excited! Live your life — yes, even while filing the FAFSA. Here’s how:

1. Make a commitment.

Waffling a little bit about whether you should file the FAFSA in the first place? Don’t. Everyone should file the FAFSA. Even if you’ve got a 12-bedroom house and peacocks on your lawn, you should file the FAFSA. 

Why? 

It helps your child more affordably attend college. Period. And there’s more that goes into the expected family contribution, or EFC, than just the parental income. Factors in determining aid include:

  • Taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security)
  • Family size and the number of family members who will attend college or career school during the upcoming year

If you don’t file the FAFSA, your child won’t qualify for federal student loans or work-study. (Federal student loans are loans lent by the federal government to help your child pay for school. These loans offer lower interest rates than private loans. Work-study is another great way to earn income through part-time, on-campus or off-campus jobs.)

Now that you know it’s a must-do, you’re ready to go.

2. Get your stuff together.

First, create your FSA ID or Federal Student Aid (FSA) account. Actually, you’ll need two. You need an FSA ID for both yourself and your student. It may take up to three days to get your account, and you must create one before you file. So plan accordingly.

Then, gather a few things while you wait:

  • Social Security numbers. You need Social Security numbers for yourself and your child.
  • Driver’s license number. Don’t worry about this step if you don’t have a driver’s license.
  • 2019 tax records. The 2021-2022 FAFSA form requires your 2019 income information.
  • Records of untaxed income. Whaaaa? Hold on — it’s simple. A few examples: child support, interest income or veterans’ non-education benefits.
  • Financial info. What does this include? It could include savings and checking account balances, investment information (stocks, bonds, and real estate, minus your primary residence).
  • The answer to the toughest question of all: Where does your child want to go to school? Gather a list of colleges your child’s considering, even if your child hasn’t applied or been accepted yet. 

Not having fun yet? Oh, you will. 

3. Cheesecake! 

Now we’re talking. 

What do you enjoy? Eating cheesecake? Watching “Jurassic Park” movies? Whatever your favorite thing is, why not do it when you file? 

It’s totally possible to yell at the TV during a football game and file the FAFSA at the same time. 

Or, approach it like it’s an event. 

Put together a smorgasbord. Throw on your comfiest clothes. Blast music or binge the next show in your queue. Add a glass of wine. Do what makes you happy, and then add the FAFSA.  

Suddenly, the FAFSA isn’t so bad after all.

4. The more, the merrier.

Chances are, you have a great friend who plans to file the FAFSA as well. Grab your laptop, a cozy blankets and a few pillows then head out to your deck where you can begin filing and enjoy the fresh air. 

If you can’t be together, try a video call. If you can arrange it, organize two screens. Put the FAFSA on one and your friend on the other. 

Everything’s better with a friend.

5. Make a game of it.

FAFSAopoly, anyone? (Every time someone goes to jail, you have to fill out a section of the FAFSA.) 

Get your spouse or partner — or your high schooler! — involved in a FAFSA game night. It’s a great way to break the FAFSA doldrums and you might even find yourself laughing wildly. 

Yeah, over the FAFSA! Who knew? 

6. Break it up. 

Make yourself feel better — you don’t have to file the FAFSA all in one sitting. The beauty of the modern world is that you can save it and come back to it later.

And if it makes you feel better, you can procrastinate a little. 

For your first sitting, just create your FSA account. Remember, you may need to wait up to three days to use your FSA account before you can begin filing.

7. Beat the standard time.

Make it a race! As long as you don’t mess it up too badly (you won’t!), make it a game to beat the standard 55 minutes it takes to file.

That’s about the time it takes to order and eat a pizza or watch your favorite show. And if you vow to trim it by 10 minutes, think of how quickly 45 minutes will speed along.

Get your partner to translate the paperwork and shout out answers to questions as you run the computer. Think of it as a weird relay race with no ribbon at the end. 

8. Keep both eyes on the prize.

See the goal at the end — that by filing the FAFSA, you allow your child to more affordably attend college, hopefully his or her dream school. 

Just to get a little philosophical about it, think about how your greatest joys often come as a result of hard work. Visualize your child graduating high school, then dry your eyes and use that image as an incentive to zip through the FAFSA. 

FYI: A little bit of magic happens when you file the FAFSA. The schools you list on the FAFSA form get those FAFSA results electronically. Then, they’ll individually determine the types and amounts of financial aid your child will receive.

Top 3 Tips for Getting the Most Aid

Whatever You Do, Make the FAFSA Fun

Sometimes, things aren’t fun: freezing your fingers as you winterize the garden, going to the dentist for a much-needed cavity fill and doing your taxes at the last minute (ugh!).

But filing the FAFSA doesn’t have to fall on that list.

It might be tough. But, remember that certain gargantuan tasks also give you tremendous satisfaction. (Remember when you tiled the entire shower yourself and said, “Man! I did that!” every time you looked at it?) 

The FAFSA certainly results in one of the best things in life — your child not only attending college, but doing so more affordably.

Finally, remember that you’re never, ever alone. It’s likely that someone (even your child!) will take you up on your offer to make it fun. 

Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!