Common Errors on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Many mistakes made during completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are because students and/or parents don’t understand the application instructions. While few errors will require you to start all over, most errors can delay the processing of your FAFSA at the federal level, your award at the university level, or both. If you complete the FAFSA online, automatic error checks are run that are not available on the paper form.  Therefore, we highly recommend that you complete your FAFSA online. While completing your form, please visit FAFSA Help, or contact us by email at [[aid]] if you have any questions.

We have compiled a list of common errors made on the FAFSA to help you through the process:

Information About the Student
  1. Although other people (besides the student who is applying for aid) may help fill out this form, it is about the student. On this form, the words "you" and "your" always mean the student. The word "college" means a college, university, graduate or professional school, community college, vocational or technical school, or any other school beyond high school.
  2. It is important that you use your proper name as it appears on your Social Security card.
  3. Be sure your Social Security Number is accurate when entering it online. The processing center and W&M use this number as a key in the application process. An error here can cause a substantial delay.
  4. If you are applying for financial aid at more than one school, answer enrollment questions according to your plans for your first-choice college. Check the terms that you will be enrolled and the type of enrollment. Full time equals 12 hours or more (9 or more hours for Graduate or Professional Students); 3/4 time 9 - 11 hours; Half time 6 - 8 hours; less than half-time 1- 5 hours; and not enrolled equals 0 hours. Your enrollment requirements may differ with the type of aid that you are receiving.
  5. Make sure the question regarding the possession or selling of illegal drugs is answered honestly. FAFSA on the Web will not let you continue with the application process until this question is answered. Having a conviction may or may not hamper your ability to receive federal aid. Visit the Drug Question Worksheet (pdf) for more information. If you have questions, contact the federal processing center at 800-4FEDAID.
Student Status
  1. If you answered "No" to all questions in Step Three, FAFSA on the Web will direct you to complete both student and parent information. You will be considered "dependent" for financial aid purposes. Graduate students are almost always considered "independent" for financial aid purposes.
  2. A dependent is a person for whom you (the student) provide and will continue to provide more than half of his/her total support. If you have a child and that child is being supported by your parents or someone else, then you do not have a "dependent."
  3. You are a Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces only if you have engaged in active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard) or as a member of the National Guard or Reserves who was called to active duty for purposes other than training, or were a cadet or midshipman at one of service academies AND were released under a condition other than dishonorable.
Student and Parent Income

NB: If you are an Independent student, you do not need to fill in the parental information. Leave those fields blank.

  1. All income information must be completed. Use "0" for any line items that do not apply to you.
  2. If your parents have divorced or separated, provide information about the parent you lived with the most during the past 12 months. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, answer in terms of the parent who provided the most financial support during the last 12 months or during the most recent year that you were actually supported by the parent.
  3. Do not leave the questions about parent name, Social Security Number, and date of birth blank!  If this information is blank or incorrect, your FAFSA will be rejected at the federal level.
  4. Marital status of parent refers to the status of the parent with whom you live. This means if your biological parents are divorced and you live with your mother who has remarried, then her status is "married." Given this scenario, both the mother's income and her husband's must be listed on the application.  Do not leave a step-parent's information out.  This will cause a delay in processing your aid.
  5. The most common income errors are made regarding tax-deferred pension and untaxed pension payments.  You can find tax-deferred pension information on your W-2, Box 12.  Only include untaxed pension if there is an amount that is not included in your Adjusted Gross Income on your taxes.
  6. To find the correct amount of taxes paid, you must use the amount from line #55 if you filed a 1040, line #35 if you filed a 1040A, or line #10 if you filed a 1040EZ.
Household Size and Number in College
For Dependent Students:
  1. Include in your household size: yourself, your parents, and your siblings who are under the age of 24, if your parents provide more than half of their support. Also include other people if they now live with your parents, and your parents provide more than half of their support and will continue to provide more than half of their support from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014.  If your parents are divorced, only include the parent with whom you live (your custodial parent) and your step-parent if applicable.
  2. List the number of people in your parent's household (siblings or other children under the age of 24) who will attend college between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014. Include only those who receive more than half their support from your parents during that period. Always include yourself.
  3. Do not include parents in the number in college. Count only the family members who will be enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program that leads to a recognized education credential at a college that is eligible to participate in Federal Student aid programs. 
For Independent Students:
  1. Include in your household size: yourself (and your spouse, if you have one), and your children, if you provide more than half of their support. Also include other people if they now live with you, and you provide more than half of their support and will continue to provide more than half of their support from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014. 
  2. List the number of people in your household (spouse, siblings under the age of 24, or children) who will attend college between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014.
  3. Count only the family members who will be enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program that leads to a recognized education credential at a college that is eligible to participate in Federal Student aid programs.
Releases and Signatures
  1. The College of William & Mary's Title IV Code is 003705. For the processing center, this is as important as your social security number. Regardless of how you list our name, we will receive your information if the code is correct. If the code is incorrect, the information will then go to another school and NOT to W&M. If you do not list our code, we cannot process any financial aid for you.
  2. It is imperative that the student and, if the student is Dependent, one of the student's parents sign the FAFSA on the Web electronically using a PIN, which can be obtained from the U.S. Department of Education through their website. If you do not have a PIN, you may print and mail the Signature Page from the website. If the PIN is not entered or the Signature Page is not mailed, it will cause a rejection of your application. Your FAFSA cannot be processed until the signature is received. This can cause serious delays in the receipt of your aid. DO NOT close your browser until you reach the page with your confirmation number. Otherwise your application will not be transmitted and processed.