Understanding the Free Application for
Federal Student Aid
What Is a FAFSA?
All college students are expected to contribute towards their education costs. How much you and your family will be expected to contribute depends on your financial situation — and is what’s called your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form the U.S. Department of Education (ED) requires to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The government conducts a “need analysis” based on financial information, such as income, assets, and other family information, which you (and your parents if you are a dependent student) will be asked to provide.
Your application is examined by a federal processor and the results are sent by computer to the financial aid offices of the colleges you’ve chosen.
The FAFSA is the application most colleges use to determine eligibility for federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs.
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.
Applying for Aid - FAFSA Is Step #1
To be considered for federal financial aid, you must submit a completed FAFSA on time.
Additionally, most states, colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award other types of aid, including state-and-college-sponsored financial aid such as grants, loans, and work-study programs.
Besides the FAFSA, some states and colleges require that you file other applications for aid. Check with your college’s financial aid administrator for any state or college-specific requirements.
You can file your FAFSA starting January 1.
Federal aid is limited and much of it is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you file the better your chances of accessing the most financial aid possible.
Many states, colleges, and universities have filing deadlines as early as the first weeks in January.
Pay close attention to how colleges word their deadline instructions. Some refer to the date by which your FAFSA must be submitted – the Transaction Receipt Date – while others refer to the date your completed aid application must be sent by the federal processor to a college’s financial aid office.
Missing deadlines can ruin your opportunity for financial aid. You should check with your colleges’ financial aid administrators to learn each college’s exact FAFSA deadline.
Filing as close to January 1 as possible is highly recommended.