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What's the FAFSA? And Why You Should Care

Completing the FAFSA will help you earn federal financial aid.

Shawna Newman

September 02, 2021

Not filling out your FAFSA is one of the biggest college blunders to make! It's money to help you pay for school.
What's the FAFSA? And Why You Should Care
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, especially public institutions, also require the FAFSA. You must submit it every year that you want aid. 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.

Obtaining Your Free Application for Federal Student Aid

The form is available in several formats, including online, PDF and paper versions.

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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, and 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. Federal Student aid FAFSA on the Web 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 Web form has built-in edit checks to catch simple errors and you avoid errors introduced by the OCR process.
• You will save the federal government money by reducing their processing costs.
• Submitting the form online allows you to list up to ten colleges, while the paper version has space only for four colleges.

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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.) Paper forms can be ordered starting November 1 of each year. Note that Free Application for Federal Student Aid form may not be submitted before October 1, even if the paper and PDF versions are available sooner. 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 possible after October 1.

EFC Calculators

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 FAFSA4CASTER tool also provides an early estimate of financial aid eligibility. It is similar to FAFSA on the Web, but omits a handful of questions (e.g., drug conviction, selective service, parent education level, list of colleges, signatures). The FinAid tool provides more analysis and detailed aid eligibility information, but FAFSA4CASTER will potentially be linked with FAFSA on the Web for prefilling the answers to some of the FAFSA questions. This article originally appeared on
Need more FAFSA help? Find everything you need to help you file for financial aid here on Fastweb.

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