Ever since the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened up for the 2021-22 academic year on October 1st, I have been surrounded by a cloud of confusion. What even is the FAFSA? Do I need to apply? Where do I apply?
So, I sat down, turned on some music, and conducted research.
Here is what I now know:
The FAFSA, is the request form for grants, loans, and work-study funds provided by the Federal Government. The form is also used by many states and individual colleges to determine financial aid eligibility. As the name suggests, the FAFSA is entirely free to fill out and submit.
Though students have an option to fill out the form by hand, the majority of people complete it online. Simply go to StudentAid.gov
to begin filling out the form. It takes most people about 30 minutes to complete the application.
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Questions on the FAFSA fall in three main categories.
• Personal questions will ask you things like your name, address, and marital status.
• Financial information questions will ask about income and taxes.
• And any questions regarding your parents will ask about….well, your parents.
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The FAFSA is available in both English and Spanish. If you don’t understand a question or are confused by the wording, utilize the help and hints box on the right hand side of the application. The online chat feature under “help” can be another great resource to get some of your questions answered. If you need additional help, reach out to your high school guidance counselor!
You'll need several items to complete your FAFSA.
You can prepare to fill out the FAFSA by gathering your social security number, your permanent residence card (if you have one), W2 forms or records of earned money, and your tax records. Many people are eligible to transfer their tax data directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. To make use of this feature, keep a look out for the “automatic transfer” option.
Create your FSA ID.
Before you begin the process of filling out the FAFSA, you should also create a username and password called a FSA ID. This ID will be your electronic signature. You only need to create an FSA ID once; you can reuse it each year you apply for financial aid. If your parents are providing any information, they will need to create an FSA ID as well. When you finish filling out the application, you use the FSA ID to sign the form.
List colleges you're considering.
On the FAFSA, you can list up to 10 schools that you are interested in attending. List all the schools you are considering, even if you haven’t been accepted or have applied yet. If you have more than ten schools in mind, you can submit your FAFSA one time with the first ten schools and then replace some of those schools with the others.
The FAFSA has deadlines.
and college sets its own deadline for the FAFSA. That’s why you should check your colleges’ financial aid deadlines and commit to filling out the form as soon as you can. Some funds are available only on a first come, first serve basis, which is yet another reason that filling out the FAFSA early is highly recommended.
What happens after you complete the FAFSA.
The information that you submitted in the FAFSA will be processed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. From this the colleges you listed will be notified so their financial aid offices can begin assessing your financial need. A benefit of filling out the FAFSA online is that you can periodically check its processing status with just a couple of clicks.
What's a SAR?
Within a few days of filling out the FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). This report summarizes all of the information you submitted on the FAFSA. Once you have your SAR, you should take the time to check the report for any mistakes and fix the information as needed.
On this SAR, you will see your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This number is used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid but it does NOT mean that you actually have to contribute that amount. The Financial Aid Office at each school that you listed on the FAFSA will receive your information and each office will then individually determine how much aid you will receive if you choose to attend that school.
Once you are accepted to a college, you will receive an award letter that details the aid that you are being offered. You should compare the award letters of multiple schools, so you can make the best decision based on your unique situation.
Remember these points about the FAFSA.
1. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for aid, fill out the form anyways. You never know what each financial aid office is considering.
2. It is NOT just high school seniors that fill out the FAFSA. If you are a college student and would like to be considered for financial aid for next school year, you must fill out the form again.
I hope this clarifies at least some of the questions you have on the FAFSA. Now get out there and earn some financial aid!