This is the transcript for Season 2, Episode 3 (October 3rd, 2018) of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah.

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Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.


Bryan: Welcome, and thank you for listening to StepUp Utah’s Title IV + More Podcast for counselors and educators. This podcast is brought to you by StepUp to Higher Education Utah – helping Utah’s students and parents prepare and pay for college. Find more about us at StepUpUtah.com.

Jacob: Welcome, listeners. I’m Jacob Newman and I’m a Paying for College Expert. Welcome to Title IV + More, the StepUp Utah Counselor and Educator Podcast.

Katie: Yes, welcome. And my name is Katie Wornek, also a Paying for College Expert with StepUp. And I’m kicking off our episode this week with news headlines. We just have one article for you this week, but it’s because it’s a little bit longer. The Department of Ed Federal Student Aid released a new blog in which they rank the 11 biggest FAFSA mistakes that they see. So I thought this one might be interesting to share so we can kind of see when students are making mistakes on the FAFSA, potentially missing out on money – what are those common pitfalls and how can we avoid it? I feel a little bit like David Letterman – the top 10 if you remember that. So, number 11: completing everything on the FAFSA except the signature. And that applies for both student signature and parent signature, so that’s a pretty common mistake. Number 10: listing only one college when the student is considering multiple colleges. Number 9: not reporting parental information when they’re required to do so. I want to pause and talk a little bit about this and get Jacob’s input on this too, because this is a question we get asked often. Understandably, some parents say, “I’m not supporting my child financially when they leave the house, when they turn 18, why should I provide my financial data on the FAFSA?” What are some of your thoughts, Jacob?

Jacob: So, dependency is one of the most common misconceptions and myths that people have about the FAFSA. They say, you know, “I didn’t claim my student on my taxes” or ,”My student’s going to be 100% financially independent from me when they leave the house, so I don’t have to report my information on the FAFSA.” That is actually not true. There are a series of dependency questions that the student needs to answer to determine if they are a dependent on the FAFSA, meaning they will have to report parental information or they’re independent, meaning they won’t have to. In most circumstances, until students are 24 or married or there are a couple other questions, they will have to report their parents’ financial information. A lot of parents are hesitant to do so. I would definitely always say that if you’re required to report it, report it because you could be missing out on some money that would not be available to the students otherwise if they don’t report their parents’ financial information.

Katie: Thanks for elaborating on that. You’re always so good at explaining it in our FAFSA Boot Camps, so I figured maybe it’d be good to turn it over to you. Number 8: putting incorrect information. And what they see most frequently that is reported incorrectly is, first up, the student might mix up the student financial section and the parent financial section. So the student might be reporting that they’re making their parents’ income and vice versa. They also see the mistake of entering the name or Social Security Number in a way that doesn’t match what they reported on their FSA ID. So, if a student has a nickname or a shortened first name, for example, they put their “Jessica” on their FSA ID, but they put “Jess” on their FAFSA, there’s going to be a mismatch there. And income tax paid is also one of the things that they see incorrectly reported. Apparently a lot of people accidentally put their whole adjusted gross income in this field, so something to keep an eye out. This is just asking how much the income tax liability was for the tax year in question. Number 7: not reading directions carefully. We have all been there, I get it. This includes putting the wrong parent, so a lot of times people will put their guardian instead of a parent or they’ll mix up parent 1 or parent 2 or they won’t read the directions about how to report divorced parents. Putting the wrong household size is common when people aren’t reading the directions. And the net worth of investments – this is one we see pretty frequently. People don’t necessarily always read that little disclaimer or the short text at the end that says, “Don’t include the value of the primary residence you live in”, so make sure when they get to the assets section that they’re reporting what their assets and investments truly are, only what the FAFSA is asking and not anything else. Number 6: students aren’t using the IRS DRT, which is the data retrieval tool. And I think this is one of the things that we try to encourage all the time. It not only saves time because you’re importing your tax information directly from the IRS website, but it also makes the student a lot less likely to be selected for verification because the financial aid office trusts that the information is coming directly from the IRS, there’s no keystroke errors or anything like that, so it ultimately helps the student in the long run. Number 5: starting the FAFSA by using name, birthdate, and Social instead of starting it with the FSA ID. And then along with this, Number 4: the mistake that is being made is that people aren’t getting an FSA ID before they start the FAFSA, so those are really similar. What do you see as the problem with this, Jacob?

Jacob: So, I think what happens is the student starts filling out the FAFSA and they’re going through and they just report their name, birthdate , and Social Security number instead of creating that FSA ID and then they go through it and they reach a point with their parents a lot of time where their parents have to have an FSA ID as well. And then they realize that they import their tax information – they have to go and create that FSA ID and then sometimes the FAFSA will have timed out or something like that. Or they’ll even get to the end and they’ll have entered everything manually and then they won’t be able to digitally sign the FAFSA.

Katie: Yea, and I think that relates also to that number 11 that we listed – people get to the end, they complete all the information, and then they don’t sign. I think that’s probably a really big reason is they think, “Oh, FSA ID, I’ll do this later” and then they never get back to it. I would agree with that. Number 3: the big mistake that they see is not filling the FAFSA form by the institutional deadlines. Students will not necessarily be denied their Pell Grant if they missed the deadline at their college or institution, but there may be limited college or university funds or grants or scholarships that the students could be missing out on because it’s a first-come first-served kind of source of aid. Number 2: not filling out the FAFSA form as soon as it’s available. The earlier they can file, the better. October 1 is the first day our seniors can fill it out this year. And, of course, the biggest mistake people make according to Federal Student Aid is that they’re not filing the FAFSA at all. And this warrants a big discussion, too. Jacob, I’ll turn it over to you for some insights on that.

Jacob: Yea, Utah has consistently been dead last in FAFSA completion and we’ve had a lot of discussions with counselors, educators, and community partners about why this might be. And I don’t know if the “why” is necessarily something that we want to get into, but I do think that students are missing out on a lot of financial aid possibilities by not filing the FAFSA. Only about 35% of graduating high school seniors fill out their FAFSA by graduation, which is really pretty sad because they’re missing out on some of those first-come, first-served financial aid opportunities that we mentioned earlier in terms of institutional or state aid. And we really want to encourage the state this year to increase FAFSA completion by 5%. To go from 35% of graduating high school seniors to about 40% of graduating high school seniors because we really think that that 5% difference will make a difference in terms of those who are enrolling directly after high school, those who are receiving some of that first-come, first-served financial aid. We really believe that when students can catch the vision that those financial barriers are removed to higher education, they will be more likely to pursue and persist in higher education as well.

Katie: I agree with that. And just to kind of delve into the reason that Federal Student Aid gave this as the number 1 reason cited for people not doing the FAFSA – because we know that there’s a million reasons why someone might not fill it out – but the #1 thing that they see that people report is, “I make too much money. I’m not going to waste my time on the FAFSA.” We get that question all the time. There’s no income cutoff for qualifying for a Pell Grant, for example, or work-study because there’s so much more than just the income that goes into the calculation. We have to look at household size, we have to look at the number in the household that are in college. It even looks at things like how close the parent is to retirement age. I mean, there are calculations – the FAFSA is very smart – that determine financial need and so it’s not just about income. Never make that guess of “I’m not going to qualify based on how much money we make.”

Jacob: And a reminder that this year, it will be required for the Regents’ Scholarship, so the state merit-based financial aid, the Regents’ Scholarship, will require the FAFSA which I think is a really great step. So students just need to do that as part of their application process.

Katie: Yes, sir. Alright, so that is it for our news headlines. A couple of events to cover that are coming if you’re interested in going yourself or informing your students about them. First up is Utah Valley University is doing an alumni fair on Saturday the 29th of September from 3-7pm on their soccer field. It’s a great community event if your students are interested in attending UVU and I will be there providing our StepUp resources, so come see me. We also have the Expect the Great conference. There’s a couple of events associated with this, but the one that’s open to the community, to students, to their parents is on Saturday, October 6th starting at 8am at Salt Lake Community College. There’s breakout sessions, as well as tabling, and it’s all centered around college and career readiness for Black, African, and African-American students. This, I believe, is the 7th year they’ve done it, so turnout is becoming pretty big and it’s a huge event and we have a lot of fun there. You can find us there at the college and career fair as well. And students can register now at expectthegreatutah.com. The Utah School Counselor Association, as I’m sure a lot of you know, is having their Fall Conference. That is taking place on Thursday and Friday October 11th and 12th at the Ogden Eccles Center. And you can find details about it at utschoolcounselor.org. Men of Color – this is a new event that I just found out about last week – this is called Men of Color in Higher Education Summit. So this is discussion about how men of color can access college campuses, how important it is for us to find equity and diversity in college. That’s going to be a really interesting event held at Salt Lake Community College South City Campus October 25th from 8am to 5pm. And then last but not least, exciting news – the 2019-2020 FAFSA opens October 1, so it’s right around the corner. And that is the same day that our FAFSA events kick off. We have 115 FAFSA events that we’re helping coordinate at different high schools around the state between October and most of them actually take place by December, which is great. So you’ll be hearing a little more about that and you can find all of those events at stepuputah.com/events. And Jacob, with that, I will turn it over to you for the FAFSA tip of the week.

Jacob: Awesome. I’m super excited to be able to present about some of these FAFSA tips that we have. Two weeks ago, we actually gave a presentation at the USHE Counselor Conference about best practices from the field, so best practices to promote FAFSA completion at your school from some of the people who have done some great work here in the state, as well as some other states from around the country. So we’re super excited to be able to share some of these best practices and this is the first week of this series. We’re going to have several weeks of this where we’re discussing best practices so you can promote FAFSA completion, and some things that you might not have thought of before. First up, what we want you to consider is to leverage classrooms. A lot of schools, when they think of FAFSA completion, they think, “Oh, we had a FAFSA Night, we’re pretty much done!” This is actually kind of a myth I would say because FAFSA completion can be done in other ways that maybe you haven’t considered before. Definitely consider in-class options for FAFSA completion or presentations about financial aid. Some great options are to use financial literacy classes. So, for example, Pine View High School down south, they use a game called Payback that discusses real-life situations in college based on finances. It gets students thinking about financial aid as well as financing higher ed. Consider doing FAFSA completion also in AVID, LIA, or POP classes. Students, you know, they’re a captive audience. They’re in that class, you can use that time to create the FSA ID and get started on the FAFSA. That’s a really great opportunity to have more of a small group intervention rather than a large-scale FAFSA completion event like you would have for your entire school. Also, another way you can leverage classrooms is to talk to teachers about giving extra credit to students who attend FAFSA Nights or complete their FAFSA. This is a really great opportunity and really great incentive for students to complete the FAFSA if they realize they can get extra credit, and I’ve seen this work really well across the state. Other options can also include citizenship points – I’ve seen that used as well. These are really great options for you that are low-cost too. They don’t require any kind of financial investment and they really work really well to get students engaged in FAFSA completion.

Katie: One thing I would add there, Jacob, is I know counselors have a lot on their plate. Huge caseloads, lots of responsibility. Orchestrating all of this doesn’t just have to lie in your court – share this information with teachers at your school. For example, I know when I’ve done in-classroom FAFSA help, it has been really successful, because like you said, it’s a small group intervention. There’s one of me and maybe 20-30 of them. I can walk around the room and most students can get the FAFSA done as long as they brought their information with them. But it’s always been the teachers themselves that reach out to me. So, if your teachers are interested in doing that, put it in their court. I know I’ve got an AVID FAFSA completion event in-class coming up at East High School this month. In the past, we’ve done Latinos in Action at Mountain View. So yea, encourage your teachers to reach out to us directly if that’s something that they’re interested in.

Jacob: Yea, and if teachers even want to facilitate this on their own, we can provide training opportunities for them to become knowledgeable about the FAFSA because it shouldn’t just be counselors that are getting involved in FAFSA completion. It’s more of a school-wide college-going culture. I think that’s a really great point. Thanks for that, Katie.

Katie: No problem.

Jacob: Next episode, we’ll continue our FAFSA best practices with a discussion on utilizing peer mentors to encourage FAFSA completion. With that, that’s the end of our episode. We welcome any questions, concerns, comments, feedback. Feel free to reach out to us and we will see you next time.

Katie: Thanks for joining us.

Bryan: StepUp to Higher Education is an outreach initiative of the state of Utah that empowers 8th-12th grade students and their families to prepare for college. We believe every Utah student should pursue education after high school, whether that be a 1-year certificate, a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, or beyond that. We provide programs and resources to encourage college prep and success, as well as training and materials for school counselors like you. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Title IV + More podcast for counselors and educators. You can find more about us, order access and outreach materials, or request a StepUp Utah event at your school at StepUpUtah.com. And last but not least, be sure to follow us on social media. You can find us at Facebook.com/StepUpUtah, also on Instagram and Twitter by searching for “@StepUpUtah”. You can also follow our Outreach Officers on social media as well. Just search for “@StepUpKatie” and “@StepUpJacob”.


Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on iTunes

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on SoundCloud

Listen to the “Title IV + More Podcast for Counselors and Educators” on Google Play

Please be advised that the FAFSA and federal student aid are subject to change. While we ensure all the information we share in each episode is accurate at the time of the episode’s release, our statements are not insulated from future changes. If you have questions, we encourage you to call us at 801-869-5701 or email us at outreach@utahsbr.edu.