FAFSA | Definition


The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form to be completed by current and prospective college students applying for aid to pay for their education.

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Did You Know

An important fact to know is that the application is entirely free. Unfortunately, there are some scam sites that will try to get you to pay to fill out the FAFSA.

What is the FAFSA?


The FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is an application that measures a prospective student’s eligibility for financial aid from the state or federal government and colleges and universities. The application is free to apply and can be found here


Once completed, the application returns a student aid report (SAR) to the applicant. The SAR includes a summary of the student's financial information and an EFC (Expected Family Contribution) number, which represents the amount of money the student or student’s family is expected to contribute.


The student aid report will then be forwarded to the school(s) in which the applicant has applied or is currently enrolled. The school(s) will, in turn, offer the student financial aid to help them meet their EFC number. 


federal student aid

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Although the application is available in paper and PDF forms, it is best to fill it out online. By completing the application online, the applicant may request an FSA ID, which serves as a secure login to the FAFSA portal. Another benefit to filling out the application online is receiving a student aid report (SAR) sooner.


Who is Eligible for Federal Aid?


United States citizens, nationals, and legal permanent residents are eligible to apply for aid through the FAFSA. In addition, individuals with proper U.S.C.I.S (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) forms, such as refugees, may also be eligible for aid through the FAFSA application. 



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Requirements Before Starting Your FAFSA


Before completing your application, make sure to have the following items:


1. A Computer with Internet Access: 


Completing the application online is the fastest way to receive your student aid report.


2. An I.D./Driver's license:


When submitting the FAFSA, an I.D. or Driver’s license is needed for identification purposes.


3. Tax Returns:


For dependent students, parental tax returns will be necessary. The IRS data retrieval tool may be used to find your or your parent’s tax information.


4. Social Security Cards:


Social security numbers are required, and unfortunately, any undocumented student that is not eligible for a social security number will not be able to fill out the application.


5. Bank Statements:


Dependent students will submit their parental bank statements, and independent students will submit theirs and their spouses (if married).


6. Investment Statements:


Investment statements are also required as part of the list of assets that your family or parents have.


Essential Things to Know About the FAFSA


My EFC is $0


Having an EFC that is $0 does not mean you’ll be attending college for free. You will receive the maximum amount of government student aid, but, in many cases, that is not enough. Some schools may help finance the costs through grants and scholarships, student loans, private loans, and more to get students as close as they can to the $0 out-of-pocket expense.


If Your Parents are Undocumented


Students who are eligible, but have undocumented parents, can still fill out the FAFSA. A parent’s citizenship status will not affect a student’s eligibility. Parents without a SSN must enter 000-00-0000 when the FAFSA form requests their social security number. Parents should not enter a taxpayer identification number (ITIN), even if they have one. Instead, all non-citizens should enter 000-00-0000, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Education.


social security

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It’s Never Too Early to Apply


The earlier you apply, the better! The FAFSA deadline each year is June 30th, typically weeks before the semester begins. However, many states award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Therefore, to maximize your chances of obtaining as much assistance as possible, it is wise to submit your application as soon as it opens, on October 1st.


How does FAFSA determine eligibility?


The application asks questions about a student and their household, family income, and family savings.


The federal government, your college, and some scholarship programs use the information on the FAFSA to see if you are eligible for various grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study.


What do I need to complete my FAFSA?


According to the U.S. Department of Education, you need the following complete the FAFSA: 


  • Driver’s license; proof of residency
  • Social security card 
  • Tax return from two years prior
  • Bank statements 
  • Investment savings 


If you count as a dependent student, then that means that your parents still provide you with financial support. Dependent students must include the information above for themselves and their parents. 


To find out whether you are an independent or dependent filer, read this document: Am I Dependent or Independent When I Fill Out the FAFSA® Form?


When is the deadline to complete FAFSA?


If you plan to attend school in the fall, it's best to file the year before your intended start date. The FAFSA application opens on October 1. Submit your application as soon as you can. 


Be sure to put all the schools that you are interested in on your application, even if you haven't received an acceptance. Most colleges have different priority filing deadlines, so check the deadline date with your prospective college. If you miss the deadline, you can still file as soon as possible but be aware that most schools have a limited amount of money, and those who file first could receive a higher chance of getting more financial aid. 


Where can I file?


You can file online at Studentaid.gov.


3 Mistakes to Avoid Regarding Your FAFSA


When you apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) you must make sure that you fill out every detail carefully. Here are three common mistakes that can hurt your application:


1. Applying too late


Some financial aid is based on a first-come, first-serve basis. Submit your application once the FAFSA opens on Oct. 1.


2. Not being honest on your application


You could miss out on the aid that you need to enroll in school. Or end up in trouble for misrepresenting your finances. Save your pockets the trouble and fill out the FAFSA truthfully.


3. Not asking questions  


Guessing answers to confusing questions on the application can hurt your pockets. For questions, call the U.S. Department of Education’s financial aid assistance line at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).      


Main Image Credit: Good_Stock / Shutterstock.com 

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