Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is how to find out if you are eligible for federal and state grants, scholarships and loans. When you and a parent or legal guardian submit your FAFSA, this form provides information on family resources available to help pay for your education. After receiving the results of the FAFSA, if you are eligible for student aid, the college will look for various ways to meet your financial need with federal, state, and institutional aid.
Not sure if you’ll qualify? It costs nothing to apply, and you may be surprised at how much aid you can get. It certainly is worth a try.
Qualifications and Deadlines
To qualify for federal (and many other types of) aid, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen
- Have a valid Social Security number
- Demonstrate financial need
- Be accepted or enrolled in an eligible degree program
- Attend school at least half-time
- Fill out and sign the FAFSA
Male students must also be registered with the Selective Service, and all students must maintain satisfactory academic progress to keep their aid. Other criteria may apply, as well, depending on the type of aid you seek.
Deadlines for completing the FAFSA depend on the year for which you’re applying, and your state and college may also have their own deadlines. Check here https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm for federal and state deadlines, and contact the colleges you’re considering for their deadlines.
How to Apply
The fastest way to apply is on the FAFSA website, or you can mail in a paper form. You can download the pdf from their website or have an application mailed to you by calling 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). If you apply online, you must create an FSA ID to confirm your identity. Make sure you save that information in a secure place because you will need your FSA ID any time you want to access your financial aid information later, and, if you are in college four years, you’ll use the same ID every time you apply for financial aid again.
The FAFSA will ask for tax information and Social Security numbers for you and your parents (if you’re a dependent), so make sure you have this information handy. It also asks you to list the schools to which you’re applying, so your information can be provided to them. Once your college choices receive this information, they will be able to figure out aid for which you may be eligible and what they may be able to offer you in an aid package.
After You Apply
Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you’ll get a Student Aid Report (SAR) showing the information you’ve provided as well as your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is what, using a financial aid formula, the FAFSA estimates your family can afford to pay for your college costs, based on family income and other factors. That’s why it is important to make sure all the information on the form is accurate.
The schools you’ve listed on the FAFSA will use that information to determine how much federal, state, school, and even private aid you’ll qualify for at their institution. The financial aid available for you may vary by school, but if you are accepted at the colleges or universities to which you apply for admission, each individual school’s financial aid offices will send you an award letter, which includes all the types of aid you can get there. Having this information to compare will help you determine which financial aid offer is the best fit for your family budget and will make it possible to attend the college of your choice.