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FAFSA – Free Application For Federal Student Aid
Every Student should apply for financial aid every year – even if you don’t think you will qualify or haven’t qualified for financial assistance in the past. Not all financial aid is based on financial need.
Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, ensures that all eligible individuals can benefit from federally funded financial assistance for education beyond high school. We consistently champion the promise of postsecondary education to all Americans —and its value to our society.
You should apply every year because family and student circumstances change – and those changes can affect eligibility from one year to another.
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for financial aid. This application will also help you determine how much student aid you may be eligible for in the form of grants, scholarships and student loans.
Nearly every student is eligible for some form of financial aid, including low-interest Federal Stafford and/or parent PLUS loans, regardless of income or circumstances, provided that you:
- are a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
- have a valid Social Security Number;
- have a high school diploma or GED;
- are registered with the U.S. Selective Service (if you are a male ages 18 to 25);
- complete a FAFSA promising to use any federal aid for educational purposes;
- do not owe refunds on any federal student grants;
- are not in default on any student loans; and
- Have not been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs during a period when you received federal student aid.
Step #1 – Applying for Aid – FAFSA
To be considered for federal financial aid, you must submit a completed FAFSA on time.
- When to apply? On or after January 1st for the following academic year. Financial aid is first come, first served, so the sooner the better.
- What do you need? The FAFSA will require information based on the most recent tax year. Your parents will need to provide income information from the previous calendar year.
- How does FAFSA calculate the Expected Family Contribution (“EFC”)? It takes into account: Parent(s) income, parent(s) assets, student income, student assets, family size, number of parents, age of older parent, and number of children in college.
Remember: This is a FREE application that you can complete on your own. If you need help, contact FAFSA Customer Service at: 1-800-433-3243. Forms can be completed online at:
Step #2 – FAFSA PIN
Your personal identification number (PIN) will let you access information on Federal Student Aid websites. Your PIN is 4 digits used in combination with your social security number, name and date of birth. It makes the process faster because you can sign the forms electronically and make corrections or changes and tract your application through the process.
Step #3 – SAR – Student Aid Report
Once your FAFSA has been fully processed, your individual expected family contribution (EFC) and other relevant financial information will appear on a Student Aid Report (SAR) that the Department of Education will issue to you and to the financial aid administrators of the colleges listed on your FAFSA.
The financial aid office(s) will then use the information from your SAR to prepare a custom financial aid package for you based on the types and amount of aid for which you are eligible, and will communicate that information to you in the form of a Financial Aid Award Notice.
When you can expect to receive the SAR:
How soon the SAR is received depends on how you file your FAFSA. For example, if you file a paper FAFSA, it may take approximately 2-3 weeks. If you file electronically, either through the Department of Education website or by using the Student Financial Aid Services FAFSA preparation and electronic filing service, your SAR can be available in 3 to 10 days.
Step #4 – Financial Aid Award Notice
Finally, the output from all the inputs:
Typically, you will receive a Financial Aid Award Notice from each college or university listed on your FAFSA to which you have been accepted for admission.
Any federal financial aid that you may be offered will generally is in the form of grants (such as Pell Grants), work-study programs and loans (such as Federal Stafford and Parent PLUS loans). Additionally, many states, colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award aid from their own resources as well, including grants, scholarships, and other college-sponsored financial aid.
Step #5 – Decide which Award Notice to accept
You may receive financial aid offers from more than one school, so be sure to compare the financial aid packages that are offered. Determine how much you will need to borrow and or work and secure from family resources. This will help you to determine the affordability. You can accept or decline any portion of the award. Be sure to respond by the deadline date, otherwise the award offer may be withdrawn.
Remember this short list of important items:
||FAFSAs are required by virtually all colleges and universities and are used to determine a student’s eligibility for nearly all types of federal, state, and college-sponsored aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.
||Errors and omissions on the FAFSA often result in processing delays, which in addition to resulting in missed deadlines; cause countless students each year to miss out on all or part of the financial aid to which they might otherwise be entitled—often amounting to thousands of dollars in lost assistance.
||FAFSAs that are submitted electronically are typically processed within three days after all signature requirements have been met. Paper applications that are mailed can take up to three weeks.
||Financial aid—particularly grants and other forms of college-sponsored aid and assistance—is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you submit your FAFSA after January 1st each year, the better your chances of receiving consideration for the maximum amount of available financial aid for which you may be eligible.
||The Department of Education advises that it typically takes parents and students 1-2 hours to complete a FAFSA on their own, and complications can add significantly to this time.
||Individual state and school FAFSA submission deadlines vary widely and are often earlier than the Department of Education FAFSA submission deadlines.
||Many state and school deadlines fall before the IRS tax filing deadline. The FAFSA may be completed using estimated tax information if a tax return has not been filed. There is no penalty for estimating your income, but you must make any necessary adjustments once your taxes are complete.
||Even if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, you must still complete a FAFSA to be considered for most federal student loans.
||Undergraduate and graduate students must complete and submit a new FAFSA each school year to be considered for most forms of financial aid.