What is the FAFSA?
Learn more what it is and how applying for the FAFSA can help you pay for school
The FAFSA, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the nationally standardized application form used by the U.S. Department of Education for assessing a family's finances and its ability to support a student's post-secondary education. It is the cornerstone of the entire federal financial aid system for students attending colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions in America.
More importantly, you and your family cannot apply for any federal student aid, including federally guaranteed student loans and grants, without completing the FAFSA form.
When should you apply for your FAFSA?
Students should start applying for the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 for a college term that begins that fall. Remember that this is not a one-time process; you will need to reapply for the FAFSA for every year that you are in school. The fastest and most convenient way to get started is to apply for the FAFSA online. Once the process is complete, applicants and their parents can return to check the status of their FAFSA application and make corrections online.
Make sure you read the directions and FAFSA questions carefully and fill in all the required information. Don't leave anything blank that applies to you. For more tips on answering FAFSA questions, check out our tips on Filing the FAFSA. If you have any questions about applying for the FAFSA or are unsure about which sections apply to you, contact your school’s financial aid office or our Education Finance Specialists for help.
What happens after you apply for the FAFSA?
After processing, the information collected from the FAFSA is shared with the applicant and their family, as well as with the financial aid offices of the institutions to which the student has applied and listed on their FAFSA.
The Student Aid Report (SAR), which is generated from completing the FAFSA, shows your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount of money your family will be expected to contribute towards your education. The lower your EFC, the more financial aid you may qualify for.
Schools will use the information from the FAFSA to determine eligibility for other types of financial aid provided by the federal government, from your state, or from the school itself. This aid can include grants, scholarships and work study opportunities, so it’s important to file your FAFSA as early as possible to take advantage of the limited funds available. Check out the next tab to learn more about campus-based financial aid options. Then, check out our sample financial aid award letter and learn how to use it.