If college is in the picture for the upcoming academic year, you should file the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as early as possible. Here are answers to some of the most important questions about the FAFSA.
Why should I file the FAFSA?
Regardless of financial situation, filing the FAFSA is the first step to qualifying for many forms of aid, not just those based on income. Federal Student Aid provides more information on types of aid and how financial aid works.
Whose information goes on the FAFSA?
The student who will attend college will provide biographical and financial information on the FAFSA. Dependent students, whether or not they are financially supported by their parents, will need to provide parent or guardian biographical and financial information.
Is the FAFSA only for federal aid?
Colleges and universities use the income, family size and other information provided on the FAFSA to award federal aid in the form of grants, work-study and loans. You need to file the FAFSA to qualify for federal work-study and federal student loans. In addition, many states and colleges and some private organizations use the information to determine eligibility for grants, scholarships and other aid.
When should I start?
The FAFSA opens toward the end of every year for the upcoming academic year and is available until June 30. Some types of aid have limited funds, so the earlier the FAFSA is completed and submitted, the better the chances of receiving more financial aid from those programs.
Remember to complete a new FAFSA before each new college year.
What information will I need?
The student should create an FSA ID to make it easier to complete and access the FAFSA. This can be done ahead of time to allow time for the ID to be verified.
You can also gather identifying information (Social Security numbers for student and parent, driver's license number, and Alien Registration number if applicable); federal tax information or returns; records on any untaxed income; and balances for cash, savings and checking accounts, investments, and business and farm assets for both the student and parents.
Note: You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to pull in applicable tax information while you complete the FAFSA, but this information will not be displayed on the online FAFSA or your Student Aid Report.
If you have any questions on the information you will need to provide, start by visiting the Federal Student Aid website.
Where do I start?
You can complete your FAFSA online at https://fafsa.gov.
You may also download a PDF form to print and complete or call (800) 433-3243 to request a form be mailed to you. Some colleges may allow you to file your FAFSA at their financial aid office.
Do I need to do it all at one sitting?
You may save the information entered into the FAFSA online if you need to stop before completing it. Then, when you're ready to finish, log back in to complete the form, sign and submit it.
What will happen next?
Within three weeks after submission, you'll receive a Student Aid Report, which summarizes the data you submitted. You should review this report carefully and follow the instructions for correcting any mistakes.
Your Student Aid Report, or your school, will also tell you if you've been selected for verification. This is not necessarily an indication that something is wrong; verification may be based on a random selection or because one or more of the schools listed requires all FAFSAs to be verified. If you are selected, follow the instructions to verify your information with the requested documents.
Federal Student Aid also shares the information you submitted with the colleges you listed when you completed the FAFSA, your state and the states of colleges you entered. Each college you have been accepted to will follow its own timeline to send you a financial aid offer detailing the financial aid available to you if you choose to attend that school.
More information is available from Federal Student Aid.