What is FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form that college and grad students fill out annually as part of the financial aid process.
Why is FAFSA important?
More than $120 billion in federal aid is awarded each year. Many states and schools also use your FAFSA information in awarding their own aid, such as school-specific scholarships.
That’s why you should always take the time to fill out your FAFSA every year (even if you don’t expect you’ll qualify for need-based aid).
How does it work?
Here’s what the FAFSA process and timeline typically look like:
Apply for a Federal Student Aid ID and password at https://studentaid.gov/fsa-id/create-account/launch
Gather all the documents you’ll need;
wait until filing opens
(October 1 of the year before the relevant school year)
Fill out the form at the official FAFSA website,
After you’ve completed the form, review your Student Aid Report
and your “Expected Family Contribution”
(that’s the amount that your family is considered able to pay)
Your school (or schools, if you’re applying)
receives your financial information through the FAFSA
Your school or schools send out their financial aid letters,
often in March or April
How is my information used?
The school you’re headed to (or those you’ve applied to) use the information on your FAFSA to determine your financial need. They do this by subtracting your Expected Family Contribution from the cost of attendance.
Ready to start?
- Give yourself some time—It’ll take around an hour to fill out the FAFSA.
- Be precise—The best way to avoid delays is to fill out the form right the first time.
- Fill it out even if you think you won’t qualify—FAFSA can help you access non-need-based aid too.
- Fill it out early—Some schools give out aid on a rolling basis. You can even fill it out before your acceptance letter arrives.
- Fill it out each year—Unfortunately, FAFSA isn’t one and done; you need to fill it out for each year you’re in school.