FAFSA: How to Get Free Money for College

A FAFSA application waiting to be filled out next to a computer and free money.

Everyone likes free stuff, like an extra doughnut from your favorite coffee shop on your birthday. But what about free money for college? You could be missing out on an important source of funds if you don’t complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s the easiest way to qualify for free money in the form of grants and scholarships. This may sound complicated, but the process is very easy, and definitely worth your time!

What is the FAFSA?

FAFSA is the largest source of student financial aid in the nation. The money can be used for tuition, room and board, books, and any other qualified education expense. Many states and colleges also use FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid.

Types of free federal college money:

  • Grants – do not have to be repaid.
  • Scholarships – do not have to be repaid.
  • Work-study – money is earned through a job and doesn’t have to be repaid.

In addition to free money, completing the FAFSA can help you qualify for low-interest loans that don’t have to be repaid until after you graduate or leave school. All college students should complete the FAFSA every year they plan to be in school. And remember, the first word in FAFSA is “free.” You should never have to pay to fill out the FAFSA form.

What is Needed to Complete the FAFSA?

Before you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, you will need a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). This is a username and password that students, parents, and borrowers must use to log on to certain U.S. Department of Education websites, such as FAFSA.gov. The FSA ID also allows you to electronically sign your FAFSA documents.

Every student needs their own FSA ID. If you are a dependent student, then your parent will need his or her own FSA ID. You will use the same FSA ID each year to complete the FAFSA, so keep the information in a safe place.

It takes just a few minutes to apply for an FSA ID, but the verification process can take up to three days to complete. You’ll probably want to apply for your FSA ID a few days before sitting down to fill out the FAFSA form.

To create an FSA ID, you will need:

  • Social Security number
  • Unique username
  • Unique password
  • Email address is recommended but not required
  • Mobile phone number is recommended but not required

While you’re waiting for the FSA ID to be processed, it’s time to gather other important information you will need to fill out the FAFSA form.

To complete the FAFSA you will need:

  • Social Security Number
  • Student’s driver’s license (if applicable)
  • Tax return for you (and your parents, if applicable) from the prior year
  • W-2s and other records of money earned
  • Bank statements, records of investments, and records of untaxed income (such as veterans’ non-education benefits and child support)
  • An FSA ID for you (and your parent, if applicable)

After submitting the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which is necessary to check the status of your FAFSA. The SAR includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which colleges use to determine your financial aid package.

When Do You Complete the FAFSA?

Students can start completing the FAFSA form on October 1 to receive financial aid for the following academic year. Apply as soon as possible because state grant funds do run out. Many colleges also have their own deadlines, so check with the financial aid office to make sure you don’t miss an important date.

However, even if you miss your school’s deadline, it’s not too late to get free money for college. Students have until June 30 to complete FAFSA and qualify for valuable federal grants and student loans. Don’t forget to complete the FAFSA form each year you plan to be in school.

Don’t Leave Free Money on the Table

FAFSA is a valuable tool that families can use to help students qualify for grants, scholarships, federal work-study, and low-interest student loans. Each school where you are accepted will use the FAFSA to determine how much financial aid they can offer to help you cover college expenses. You will receive that information in a financial aid offer letter after you are accepted.

Don’t forget to apply for private scholarships. They are another great source of free money for college. CFNC.org has a detailed list of North Carolina scholarships, as well as other great tools to help you plan, apply, and pay for college. Remember, every penny counts when you’re a college student.