Completing the FAFSA Without Caffeine

Last Updated Feb 1, 2010 2:40 PM EST

When I staggered from my computer last night, I felt my head was going to explode.
I spent more time than I had expected completing the FAFSA and the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.

I finished the student financial aid applications on the same weekend that I decided to swear off caffeine. So I don't know what gave me the worse headache - the caffeine withdrawals or working on these college financial aid forms.

Some of the colleges that my son has applied to imposed a February 1 deadline so here I was like a lot of other knuckleheads waiting until the final hours to file their student aid applications.

The hang-up for me was completing my taxes. Ideally, you don't want to fill out the financial aid forms until you've completed your tax return, but the early bird financial aid deadlines made that impossible for me since my husband and I haven't even received all our tax documents in the mail yet. I was forced to estimate my figures, which about 20% of filers end up doing, according to the College Board, which created the PROFILE.

I know I wasn't alone on Sunday because as the day progressed, I experienced tremendous difficulty accessing my partially completed CSS PROFILE. When I tried to log in, the College Board site displayed a message that warned that anybody trying to file the PROFILE in the days leading up to February 1 could encounter delays.

Tell me about it. I probably tried 20 times to log in over a several-hour period to finish the PROFILE. I finally concluded that I would probably encounter better luck if I just waited until parents on the East Coast had given up. And sure enough, at 12:30 a.m. EST, I hopped on the PROFILE site from out here on the West Coast and finished the form.

I didn't, by the way, have any problem navigating the FAFSA website.

Based on my own experience, here is my advice for the millions of poor souls who must still wrestle with one or both of these college financial aid applications:

Don't procrastinate. And try tackling these forms during hours when the FAFSA and PROFILE folks are manning their help lines. It's almost inevitable that you're going to have questions.

Oh, and don't try this without caffeine.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for TheCollegeSolutionBlog. Follow her on Twitter.