The free and easy way to apply for financial aidThe US Department of Education has changed when students heading to or already in college can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can be filed as of October 1, 2016, three months earlier than in years past, and will use 2015 income and tax information. In conjunction with this change, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is launching College Changes Everything Month, combining the activities of College Application Month and Financial Aid Awareness Month from years past.

The new earlier FAFSA availability means that families need to submit their FAFSA forms as soon as possible, as assistance in Illinois is generally provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Remember that the FAFSA needs to be filled out annually, so freshman in college this year will need a new FAFSA form for their sophomore year (and similarly for higher grades). Be aware that colleges and universities may be moving their deadlines earlier as well. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a November 30, 2016 deadline for Fall 2017, Spring 2018, and Summer 2018 financial aid. Check college and university websites for their specific deadlines.

To help families fill out the FAFSA, the Department of Education has created a list of 12 common FAFSA mistakes. The list, complete with interactive buttons to take you to appropriate resources, helps families avoid these mistakes:

  1. Not completing the FAFSA
  2. Not using the correct website (gov)
  3. Not getting an FSA ID ahead of time
  4. Waiting to fill out the FAFSA
  5. Not filing by the deadline
  6. Not using your FSA ID to start the FAFSA
  7. Not reading definitions carefully
  8. Inputting incorrect information
  9. Not reporting parent information
  10. Listing only one college
  11. Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
  12. Not signing the FAFSA

Be sure to check out the list of common FAFSA mistakes to find out more information on how to avoid each one.