Financial Aid

What is the FAFSA? And Why Should You Care?

How do I fill out the FAFSA? What is the deadline for FAFSA? Get the answers now.

Shawna Newman

September 07, 2023

What is the FAFSA? And Why Should You Care?
Get your FAFSA questions answered, plus get access to a FAFSA EFC calculator.
High school seniors will hear a lot about the FAFSA as they prepare for college; however, it is just as important for college, graduate, and professional students to complete the form each year as well. It is the only way that you will qualify for federal, state, and some institutional aid.

What is the FAFSA?

You must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if you want to apply for federal and state financial aid. Many colleges and universities also require the FAFSA. You must submit it every year that you want aid.

How Do I Fill Out the FAFSA?

The form is available online, although PDF and paper versions can be requested. The best option is to complete the web-based version. It includes step-by-step instructions for completing the online version as well as preapplication worksheets.
You can obtain a FSA ID, which is like your FAFSA login, that will also allow you to electronically sign the form too. If you have technical questions about the Web form, call 1-800-4-FED-AID. Filing your FAFSA online offers several benefits, including: • You will get your Student Aid Report (SAR) sooner than with the paper or PDF forms.
• It will be more accurate, since the online form has built-in edit checks to catch simple errors and you avoid errors introduced by the OCR process.
• Submitting the form online allows you to list up to ten colleges, while the paper version has space only for four colleges.
Most families complete the FAFSA online these days, as it's getting easier to file every year! Now, you can even file for free federal financial aid from your mobile device. Paper versions are no longer bulk-distributed to high schools, colleges and libraries, with a few exceptions. (The exceptions involve organizations that work with underrepresented populations and students that do not have access to the Internet or a phone.) However, students may obtain up to three copies of the paper version by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3242) or 1-391-337-5665. (Hearing impaired individuals should call the TTY number 1-800-730-8913.)
Note that Free Application for Federal Student Aid form may not be submitted before the form is available online, even if the paper and PDF versions are available sooner.

What is the Deadline for FAFSA?

The FAFSA deadline is the same every year: June 30. However, the federal government and many states award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it’s wise to submit the form as soon as it becomes available. Most states have their own FAFSA deadline. They either fall during the late winter/early spring months, or students are instructed to simply complete the form as soon as possible. Colleges and universities may also have their own FAFSA deadline. If you hope to qualify for state or institutional financial aid, you need to have your FAFSA submitted by these deadlines, rather than the June 30 federal deadline. Finally, colleges and universities may have their own financial aid form that supplements the FAFSA. These supplemental forms may provide a clearer picture of your financial circumstances and will greatly assist the college in creating an aid package for you.

What are FAFSA EFC Calculators?

Our sister site, FinAid, offers a variety of calculators to help families estimate their financial aid packages and out-of-pocket costs. FinAid's Financial Aid Estimation Form may be used to calculate your EFC and an estimate of your eligibility for financial aid. This may help you understand a bit about how the federal need analysis system works. You can also run "what-if" experiments to see how much aid you'll get under various scenarios. FinAid also has a QuickEFC calculator that uses much fewer questions to yield a ballpark estimate of your EFC. Like FinAid's EFC calculator, the US Department of Education's financial aid estimate tool also provides an early estimate of financial aid eligibility. It is similar to the online FAFSA form, but omits a handful of questions (e.g., drug conviction, selective service, parent education level, list of colleges, signatures). NOTE: On the 2024-25 FASFA, the EFC will be replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI will be determined by a different methodology. SAI will not take into the number of family members in college at the same time. It will also allow a minimum SAI of -$1,500 to give financial aid administrators more insight when considering students for aid.

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