FAFSA | Everything You Need to Know About the Federal Student Aid
If you are considering applying to colleges in the United States, you might have seen the term FAFSA. It plays a significant role in getting financial aid for college—but if you’re not familiar with it, it can be daunting and stressful.
That’s why we’ve compiled this comprehensive FAFSA 2024-25 guide that covers everything you need to know about getting started. Whether you are a high school senior or a returning college student, this guide helps simplify the FAFSA application process. It ensures you have all the information you need to apply for federal student aid.
So, what is FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) is a form used by the US Department of Education to assess a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid programs, such as grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. It’s generally accessible each year on October 1 through the Federal Student Aid website.
By completing the FAFSA application, you can potentially make college more affordable and lower the burden of various expenses such as tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other costs associated with being a college student.
How much do you need to qualify for FAFSA?
No specific income limit disqualifies you from receiving financial aid through the FAFSA.
Eligibility for financial aid through the FAFSA is determined by multiple factors, including your family’s income and assets, household size, and the number of family members enrolled in college.
It’s important to note that even if you think you may not qualify for federal or need-based financial aid, you should still complete the FAFSA. Some states and colleges require the FAFSA to be completed for students to be considered for merit-based aid, such as scholarships, even if you don’t demonstrate financial need.
Here are the general requirements to qualify for FAFSA:
You are a US citizen or eligible noncitizen.
You have a valid Social Security number.
You have a high school diploma or equivalent, such as a GED certificate.
- You are enrolled or have applied to a college or university participating in federal financial aid programs.
Is there a deadline to apply for FAFSA?
Yes, FAFSA applications open on October 1; the federal deadline is June 30. However, different states and colleges may also have deadlines.
For all state deadlines, visit the FAFSA website.
For all college deadlines, it is recommended that you check with the financial aid offices of the schools you’re considering.
Here are a few things to know before starting the FAFSA application:
I. Know your dependency status.
Knowing if you are a dependent or independent student before starting the FAFSA application will help you determine if additional information is needed.
- Dependent students must include personal and financial information for themselves and a parent or guardian.
- Independent students typically report only their information. The exception is if you are married. In that case, you also include your spouse’s information.
II. Know your school year.
Choosing the correct academic year in which you plan to attend college is crucial to avoid any potential delays or errors in the financial aid process.
III. Know the necessary documents.
To complete the FAFSA, you need to gather some important documents beforehand. These documents help you accurately report your income, assets, and other financial information to the federal government. If you are a dependent student, you need most of the information below for a parent/guardian.
The required documents are needed to complete the FAFSA:
- Your Social Security number.
- Records of your federal income tax filings and any money earned from the preceding two years.
- An FSA ID to sign electronically.
Additional documents may include:
- Your Alien Registration number (if you’re not a US citizen)
- Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
- Bank statements and investment records (if applicable)
Step-by-Step: How to complete the FAFSA application
To determine what financial aid you qualify for, you can start by completing the FAFSA application on a mobile or desktop browser. You can access the application by visiting the Federal Student Aid website.
Step 1: Create an FSA ID.
You must create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to sign the FAFSA electronically. If you are a dependent student, a parent or guardian must also make an FSA ID. When applying for the 2024-25 FAFSA, an FSA ID must be set up prior to accessing the form for both students and parents.
Step 2: Begin the FAFSA application.
Once you have an FSA ID and the necessary documents, you’ll start the application by filling in your academic year and demographic information, including your name, address, and date of birth. For the purpose of data collection, additional questions regarding applicants' gender, race, and ethnicity may be asked.
Step 3: Enter the codes of the schools you are considering.
You can list up to 10 colleges at a time on your application, so include all the schools you’re considering—even if you haven’t completed an application or received an acceptance from them yet.
List each school with its school code, which you can find using the Federal Student Aid School Code Search tool.
Step 4: Fill out financial information.
When you arrive at the financial section, you must include information from two years prior, also known as the “prior-prior year.” Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) to electronically transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA form.
Important note: If you have experienced changes in your financial situation, such as job loss, reduced income, or changes in family size, you may be eligible to adjust your FAFSA form. This adjustment could qualify you for additional assistance.
Step 5: Sign and submit.
Review your FAFSA for accuracy and sign it electronically using your FSA ID. If you are a dependent student, a parent or guardian must sign it electronically using their FSA ID.
How much can I get from FAFSA?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The amount of financial aid you receive is determined based on several factors, including your financial need, the cost of attendance at the college or university you plan to attend, and the availability of funds.
What’s next after submitting the FAFSA application?
I. You'll receive a FAFSA application confirmation.
After submitting your FAFSA, you should receive a confirmation email or notification acknowledging that your application has been successfully submitted. Keep this confirmation for your records.
II. You'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR).
Within a few days to a few weeks, you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) via email. The SAR summarizes the information you provided on the FAFSA and includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which helps determine if and what federal aid you qualify for.
III. Review the SAR report.
Carefully review your SAR to ensure all information is correct. If you find any errors or discrepancies, follow the instructions on the SAR to make corrections.
IV. Your SAR information is sent to colleges.
Each school you listed on the FAFSA application receives your SAR; it helps them determine your eligibility for financial aid programs they administer.