What is the FAFSA?
Did you know that the federal government provides more than $120 billion each year to college students to help pay for school? Wondering how you can get some of that money for yourself?
FAFSA is the answer.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the “FAFSA,” helps colleges and the government decide if you qualify for need-based federal financial aid for your education. You could even receive aid in the form of a grant, which gives you access to money for college that you don’t have to pay back. You could also receive support in the form of work-study positions or loans.
Your college itself may also use the data you provide on the FAFSA to award their own internal scholarships and supportive programs. In fact, schools may not consider you for merit-based scholarships until you’ve submitted all of your FAFSA information.
To state the obvious, it is incredibly important that you submit a FAFSA, regardless of your financial situation or academic performance. And if you didn’t complete it before you started the school year, it’s not too late. Do it now to increase your chances of eligibility for the next semester!
Why Should I Complete The FAFSA?
The FAFSA essentially functions as an easy way for every college student to apply for need-based financial aid. With this standardized system, the federal government and academic institutions can ensure that every applicant receives the same level of review and consideration for support.
Without the FAFSA, students looking for aid then rely on privately funded scholarships at the local, regional, and national levels. Moreover, students who need to borrow money for school will be limited to private loans, which often have higher interest rates than federal loans, if they do not submit a FAFSA.
How To Complete The FAFSA
Here is a quick guide to answer all your burning FAFSA questions and to help you get your FAFSA submitted this week.
How Long Does It Take to Complete The FAFSA?
Roughly 30-60 minutes the first time. For students using the Renewal FAFSA, the process can even be shorter. However, financial aid is given on a first-come, first-serve basis, so the sooner the better when it comes to getting your FAFSA in.
In this case, the early bird really does get the worm. Many education experts recommend students complete their FAFSA during October of their senior year. The reason for this is that funding can be claimed or run out early in the academic year. So the earlier you complete your FAFSA, the more access you’ll have to financial aid that can eventually run out. But as the saying goes, “better late than never.” If you never apply, you won’t be eligible for aid.
Submitting a FAFSA is not a one-time event. In fact, college students should submit a FAFSA every year they’re enrolled in school if they want to be considered for federal student aid.
When you reapply, you can save a little bit of time by using the Renewal FAFSA using your FSA ID. While much of your information will carry over from the previous year, you’ll need to update any changes to your financial situation since your last submission.
What Documents Do I Need To Complete The FAFSA?
- You will need your social security number. If you do not have one but you meet other eligibility criteria, you’ll need to submit your Alien Registration number.
- If you have a driver’s license, you’ll be asked to enter your license number.
- Next, you will need to submit your 2020 federal income tax return. If you are a dependent student, you’ll also need to submit your parents’ or legal guardian’s tax information. You may be eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, or DRT, to fill out this information more quickly. Bear in mind that you can only use your 2020 tax information for the 2022-23 FAFSA, not 2021 tax information.
- Records of your untaxed income, including child support, veterans’ noneducation benefits, and interest income
- Records of your assets, including how much money you have in checking and savings accounts. You’ll also need records of your investments, including any real estate, bonds, or stocks you may possess.
- A list of up to 10 schools to which you plan on applying, even if it’s a long shot. These schools will automatically receive your FAFSA information. If you end up not applying to one or more of the schools, there is no penalty against you.
What Else Should You Know About The FAFSA?
In order for your FAFSA information to be considered for state aid, some states have requirements about the list of up to 10 schools we just mentioned. It may sound like a small detail, but some states require that those schools you provided be listed in a specific order. In other cases, states require that students list at least one in-state school to be considered for state aid. Check out studentaid.gov’s dedicated page on this topic for state-by-state information.
It’s best to apply early! Although you have until the end of June 2023 to submit your FAFSA information, there is unfortunately not an unlimited amount of money to go around at both the state and federal levels. Funds for students are essentially first-come, first-served.
Spend 60 Minutes Completing your FAFSA, And You’ll Be Done Before Spring Break!
Filling out the FAFSA has never been easier, and our full FAFSA guide can answer any additional questions you might have. It’s important that you take 30-60 minutes out of one day this fall to submit your information. Remember this will give you the best chance to receive financial aid, and the full amount you deserve, if you apply early. Why wait? If you haven’t submitted your FAFSA, do it before the new year.
Can I update my FAFSA with 2021 tax information?
- No. Your 2022-23 FAFSA should only contain tax information that pertains to your 2020 federal returns.
My income dropped significantly between 2020 and the first half of 2021. Can I contact someone about that?
- Yes. Studentaid.gov suggests that you contact the school you plan to attend and explain your financial changes over the last year. School officials have the option of adjusting your FAFSA form in cases where the change in income is significant.
My parents make a good income and my grades really aren’t that great, so I don’t know if I’d qualify for need-based aid. Should I still submit a FAFSA?
- Yes. All incoming and returning college students should submit a FAFSA regardless of their own or their family’s financial situation, their academic performance, or involvement in extracurricular activities. All types of financial aid have different qualifications and requirements, so you never know what you’ll qualify for.
How much does it cost to complete the FAFSA? I’m already spending money on application fees when I apply to schools. Do I really need to spend more money to submit my FAFSA?
- No. The FAFSA is totally free and won’t cost you a dime!
Is the FAFSA information useful for anything other than sending it into the federal government and those schools I list?
- Yes. In fact, if you submit your FAFSA early, you may get a financial aid award letter sooner than later. With that information, you can make a better decision about where to go to school based on how much federal or state financial support you’ve garnered. Additionally, when you apply for outside/private scholarships at the local, regional, and national levels (which you should do regardless of your financial status or academic performance), those applications may ask for your FAFSA information, too. So, you’ll be getting a headstart on any scholarships that may require it.
If I submit a FAFSA, do I need to apply for other scholarships?
- Yes! Scholarships are essentially free money that you don’t have to repay. You should apply to as many scholarships as you can, provided you meet the eligibility criteria. About $100 million in scholarship money goes unclaimed every year, mostly because there aren’t enough applicants. Check out Universities.com’s free scholarship tool to help you find scholarships just for you.