The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (known as the FAFSA) is a form that the U.S Department of Education uses to determine financial aid award eligibility (including Pell Grants, federal student loans, and work-study) for college students.
The U.S. Department of Education begins accepting the application beginning January 1 of each year for the upcoming academic year. Most federal, state, and institutional aid is provided on a first come, first served basis. Students are advised to submit a FAFSA as early as possible in order to be eligible for the maximum amount of financial assistance available. You will have to complete the FAFSA for each year you are enrolled in college.
Why fill out a FAFSA?
The FAFSA shows schools how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. Students who plan to go to college typically fill these out these forms after January 1 of their senior year.
The U.S. Department of Education uses the data on your FAFSA to calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is an indicator of your family’s financial strength to pay for college. Your school will subtract your EFC from your total cost of attendance. The result is your financial need.
The EFC is not the amount of money that your family must provide. Rather, you should think of the EFC as an index that colleges use to determine how much financial aid (grants, loans, or work-study) you would receive if you were to attend their school.
Your application results are transmitted to the school(s) listed on your FAFSA, and the school(s) uses the EFC amount to determine the amount of financial aid that you are eligible to receive. Some schools also use the FAFSA data to award aid from their programs. Some schools also may require you to complete additional applications. Completing and submitting a FAFSA is free and must be submitted electronically.
Am I eligible for federal student aid?
In general, to receive aid from the federal student aid programs, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen. (See FAQ to determine who is an eligible noncitizen.)
- Have a high school diploma, General Educational Development (GED) certificate, pass an approved “ability to benefit” test, or have completed a high school education in a home school setting that is recognized as a home school or private school under state law.
- Enroll in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
- Be registered with Selective Service if required (in general, if you are a male age 18-25).
- Meet satisfactory academic progress standards set by your school.
- Certify that you are not in default on a federal loan or owe money on a federal grant.
- FILL out the FAFSA!
What should my first step be?
Before you begin filling out the actual FAFSA, fill out this year’s “FAFSA on the Web” worksheet. It makes the process much easier. It can be accessed online, click here.
Steps to file FAFSA:
Before you file: Gather your and your parent’s (if applicable) 2015 income tax returns, W2 forms and other records of income. You can see a full list at www.fafsa.ed.gov. You can also estimate the tax information if you have not yet filed.
Apply for an FSA ID here. This is a log in that will allow you to fill out the FAFSA and it will serve as your electronic signature on your FAFSA application.
Have your parent apply for an FSA ID, also. This will allow your parent to input tax information and will serve as your parent’s electronic signature.
File the FAFSA: The FAFSA is available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
- You can file your FAFSA beginning January 1. Many schools have award financial aid on a rolling basis so you will want to check with the schools you are interested in to see if they have a priority deadline (usually early March). You can still file your FAFSA after that date, however, you may not be considered for certain financial aid.
- Complete all sections about you, your school plans, and financial information.
- List School Codes for your chosen schools.
- Enter your electronic signature (PIN). Remember to include your parent’s PIN or your FAFSA will be rejected.
- Print out and keep a copy of your submitted information for your records.
After you file: You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). Check it for accuracy and follow up on any requests for additional information.
- Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is calculated from information you provided on the FAFSA and is listed on your SAR. The EFC is the amount your family is expected to contribute to your education for the upcoming year.
- Some applications are selected for verification by the Federal Government. If selected, you will be required to complete a verification worksheet and submit tax documents (1040, W2s, etc) to the financial aid office.
- Your financial aid award will be mailed to you. Upon receiving this, you will need to accept or decline any aid. (Before accepting or declining see next section for information about comparing financial aid awards)
How do I apply for state and school aid?
The information you provide on your FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for some state and institutional (school) aid. This aid is often provided on a first-come, first-served basis, so submit your FAFSA as soon as possible on or after Jan. 1 to be considered for this aid. Visit the website of each school you’re interested in to learn their priority deadlines for school and state financial aid, and to find out about any special requirements, such as additional paperwork the school might need from you. Also, most colleges have deadlines for completing the FAFSA. Because some funds are limited and run out, meeting deadlines is always very important. You can also find a list of state deadlines here.
I submitted my FAFSA—what happens next?
After you submit your FAFSA, you will recieve a Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of the FAFSA data you submitted. Review your SAR and, if needed, make changes or corrections and submit those changes for reprocessing. If you don’t have any changes, you don’t need to do anything. Your complete and correct SAR will contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)—the number used to determine your federal student aid eligibility during one school year. Make sure your EFC appears in your SAR. Your SAR will be sent to the schools you identified on your FAFSA. From this point on, you must stay in contact with your school’s financial aid office because they will put together your financial aid package.
More information: Frequently Asked Questions about FAFSA