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For parents filling out the FAFSA and PROFILE (from a veteran paper slinger)
by Ellen Rice

Just so you know, filling out these forms is a lot more than penciling in your bank account balance.  It is also a time for unrelenting self-analysis and assessment.  When you sit down to start the forms, you'll find yourself wrestling with these ugly questions:

1) Am I fully prepared to pay for my student's college expenses' Answer: No.  (That's why you are filling out these dratted forms.).  Wow.  I haven't even filled in the name blanks and I'm already feeling inadequate.

2) Is my child ready to live an independent life in a competent fashion?  Answer: It is, ah, rare, for the launch to independence to go seamlessly.

3) If parenting a male child, am I ready for my darling boy to register for military service?  Answer: Probably not, even if your family has a long, proud history of service.  This is, after all, your boy. 

Some truths here that may help you slog on to the finish line:

1) Filling out the FAFSA and the PROFILE are how you let the college know that you'd like help with college expenses.  Fill them out, even if you expect that you 'make too much.' Most colleges will go to their FAFSA applicant pile when awarding their clarinet scholarships, their leadership scholarships, their aspiring chemist scholarship and so on.  Your kid may not be on the list to be considered for anything if you haven't finished the forms (check the individual college websites to confirm this).

2) The Estimated Family Contribution that is generated at the end of the FAFSA process is almost always some heart stopping number.  You will NOT be writing a check for that amount.  For instance, if your child is covered under your health insurance, you may be able to waive the college health insurance, saving about $1500 a year.  Your child may not need the deluxe meal plan.  A more modest meal plan may save you $1500 a year.  You may be able to downsize your student's car insurance fee if your student is not taking a car to college.  Also, you've been buying chips and salsa for the kid for years.  Now you'll be writing a check to Dining Services.  Part of that EFC number is money you have already been spending. 

3) Virtually no one finishes the FAFSA or PROFILE in one sitting.  Start early and don't be surprised if the process makes you feel adrift or grumpy.  This process makes you look at your financial picture and you may have a sense of desperation as you realize that the financial aid office won't perceive your wallet as thin as you do.  Slog on. 

4) The FAFSA asks if a male is 18 and registered for military service ('the draft').  It then offers to register the student.  This can really freak out a parent.  There are parents who halt the form at this point, forgoing potential thousands in college financial aid for their boy.  Please don't do this.  It is the LAW that 18-year-old males register for the draft.  It is the LAW whether or not the student goes to college or becomes a professional couch surfer.  The student (not the parent) will be in violation of the law if there is failure to register. 

What is a parent to do?  Express your opinions to your Congressional representatives.  As written, our current laws are military oriented and gender discriminatory.  Females do not have to register.  Other countries have all young people register for national service, which can include conservation work, elder care or other actions.  Filling out the FAFSA is an excellent opportunity to pause and speak to your offspring (of either gender) about the family's history of service and the current world situations that involve or affect our nation. 


We do not currently have an activated draft for military service.  You can count that such an action would be well publicized and much discussed before implemented.  Checking a 'please register' box does not (currently) put your boy on a bus to boot camp (see a military recruiter for that opportunity and know that can be another path to a paid college education).


What if the student is male and 17?  If you check 'register the student', then the student will receive a postcard saying something like 'Thanks for trying but you are not yet 18.  Please register when you turn 18.'


5) Being early is more important than being utterly correct ' BUT then you do need to go back and amend the forms so they ARE accurate once your tax returns are finished.  Colleges often work through their applications in the order they were received. 

6) Expect that you WILL have to provide current and recent tax returns to the college at some point in the process (usually later in the spring)

7) It is stupid (yep, that's a strong word, but it's appropriate) to argue with your offspring over the affordability of College A over College B anytime before April 1.  Why?  You don't even know if your student has been accepted, and you usually don't have the financial aid package until then.  The details in the package are hugely important.  There are times when a private school will be as affordable or even more affordable than a state school ' it will depends on the combination of grants, work/study, and loans being offered.  Use the winter months to argue over housekeeping habits instead.  It still won't get you to the seamless launch to independence but it makes more sense than arguing over (unknown) college costs.  Remember, EFC and Cost of Attendance are ballpark figures and some ballparks cover a lot of country. 

8) Print off a copy of the finished FAFSA.  You get to do the FAFSA again next year.  You will do the FAFSA for each year the student is in college AND a second FAFSA when the next kid enrolls in college.  This is happy news because all the misery of learning the process does help for subsequent years.  Just think, 'My paperwork may be worth thousands of dollars per hour!' Good Luck!

Author:
Ellen Rice

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• What you make of it?
• How Ivy League Admissions works
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