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FAFSA: What it is & Why it Matters

Last updated September 25, 2023

FAFSA: What it is & Why it Matters

In order to receive financial aid for college, students must first complete the FAFSA. You may have heard of the FAFSA before, but what exactly is it and what role does it play in helping you access financial aid? We break down what you need to know about the FAFSA and why it matters!

A person wearing a short-sleeved blue shirt types on a laptop placed on a wood desk. Pens and open notebooks lay to the right of them - FAFSA: What it is & Why it Matters

What is the FAFSA? Why does it matter?

The FAFSA is a free government form that prospective and current college students fill out to be considered for financial aid, such as grants, scholarships, student loans, work-study, and more. You must complete the FAFSA once a year– the year before starting college and each year you’re in college– to be eligible for any kind of aid.

When you submit your FAFSA, your family’s income, tax information, and financial assets will be taken into consideration. The federal and state government, in addition to your college, then award you a certain amount of financial aid based on that information to help cover the costs of your education. The amount of financial aid you can or will receive each year is subject to change based on changes in your family’s income or circumstances. Regardless of what financial changes occur for you or your family in any given year, you must complete the FAFSA in order to receive financial aid for college.

What forms of financial aid can I receive by filling out the FAFSA?

  • Grants: You apply for federal grants like the Pell grant by filling out the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA is also a requirement for many state or institutional grants.
  • Scholarships: Filling out the FAFSA is often one of the main requirements to be considered for institutional, state-wide, need-based, and merit scholarships.
  • Federal student loans: Federal student loans will always be the most low-interest and borrower-friendly option for students. The only way to receive federal student loans is by completing the FAFSA.
  • Work-study: Federal work-study provides funds for students with financial need to secure on/off campus jobs to help cover educational expenses.

What do l need to fill out the FAFSA? How do I get started?

To begin filling out your FAFSA, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website. Click “I am a student and want to access the FAFSA form.” You will be asked for your login credentials (FSA ID) and can follow the instructions on the form.

Source: studentaid.gov

Here’s what you need to complete the FAFSA if you’re a dependent student:

  • Your FSA ID (which you will need to make in advance of completing the FAFSA).
  • Your social security number.
  • Your parents’ social security numbers.
  • USCIS registration number for eligible non-citizens.
  • Federal tax information, tax documents, or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information, for you and your parents.
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, for you and for your parents if you are a dependent student.
  • Information on cash; savings and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds and real estate (but not including the home in which you live); and business and farm assets for you and your parents.
  • A list of colleges you intend to apply to (if you’re completing the FAFSA for the first time). You do not have to be accepted to any of these colleges at the time you complete your FAFSA. You can list up to 20 colleges.

For most families and students, completing the FAFSA takes around one hour. Learn more about the steps of completing the FAFSA here.

When can I start filling out my FAFSA?

The FAFSA will open in December 2023 for the 2024-2025 academic year. We recommend completing it as early as possible, since some colleges and states award more financial aid the earlier you apply. Some states also operate on a first come, first served basis, which means they can potentially run out of financial aid. Don't wait!

Make sure to double-check the dates before you start filling out the form. You want the FAFSA labeled with the school year for which you need aid (not this current year).

What’s the deadline to complete the FAFSA?

We recommend completing your FAFSA early in your senior year. FAFSA deadlines vary by state and college. Learn what your deadline is here, and be sure to apply well before it. The federal FAFSA deadline is June 30th, annually.

Where can I get FAFSA Help?

Check out our list of FAFSA help by state, which breaks down what kinds of free virtual and in-person resources are available to students completing the FAFSA in your state.

Have more questions about the FAFSA?

Text #FAFSA to 33-55-77 and we'll walk you through every step of filing your FAFSA. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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