Student News

What Does FAFSA Stand For?

Learn more about the financial aid form that you must complete to get aid.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

December 15, 2023

What Does FAFSA Stand For?
The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
As you make plans to apply for and attend college, you’ll begin to hear the term “FAFSA” frequently, which may leave you wondering, “What does FAFSA stand for?” FAFSA stands for: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. While a bit can be gleaned from the acronym, there is still plenty of explanation needed if you’re unfamiliar with the form. Below, we impart everything you need to know about the FAFSA.

What is the FAFSA?

The definition of FAFSA is – the form that you must complete in order to qualify for federal financial aid. States as well as colleges and universities utilize the form to distribute aid as well. The FAFSA will ask about family circumstances and financial information to determine an Student Aid Index (SAI), formerly known as the EFC. That is the figure that the federal government believes your family can contribute to college costs. Your SAI is sent to you as well as the schools you’re interested in to help them develop a financial aid package that will enable you to better pay for college.

Types of Financial Aid

There are multiple sources of financial aid that students may find in their financial aid package: • Scholarships and Grants – These are forms of financial aid that do not have to be paid back. Oftentimes, the prerequisite for qualifying for one of these forms is to be a student that demonstrates financial need. • Loans – Students may receive loans within their financial aid package. Loans must be paid back, along with interest. • Work Study – This final form of financial aid allows students to work a job on campus, which can help pay for tuition costs. Work study jobs do not require a huge time commitment and largely work around student schedules.

Who is Eligible for FAFSA?

Anyone is eligible to fill out the FAFSA. Even if you didn’t qualify for financial aid in the past or you feel as if you wouldn’t qualify for whatever reason, you should still apply. First, eligibility standards change. For example, Congress may pass laws that lower the income levels for receiving the Pell Grant. Second, all students can qualify for unsubsidized federal student loans, regardless of financial need or family income. These loans provide students with low-interest rate options that they can exhaust before applying for private student loans, which oftentimes have higher interest rates and limited repayment plans. Finally, students are able to appeal financial aid decisions. If there was a family circumstance that would have made you eligible for aid but wasn’t accurately portrayed on the FAFSA, your school can make a professional judgment to award more financial aid. However, they will be extremely limited if you don’t have a FAFSA on file.

When is the FAFSA due?

The FAFSA has an 18-month application cycle. This means that the 2024-25 FAFSA, which will be launched in December 2023, is not due until June 30, 2025. This extended application cycle allows students that enroll during that period to apply for financial aid at any given time. However, many states as well as colleges and universities have their own deadlines. Failing to meet these institutional or state FAFSA deadlines could result in fewer financial aid opportunities. It is recommended that students apply for the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available in December. Oftentimes, states award financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s best to complete the FAFSA sooner rather than later – before state’s run out of financial aid funds.

How to Apply for FAFSA

The FAFSA can be found at In addition to creating an account to complete the form, students need an FSA ID. Parents also need their own FSA ID. This FSA ID acts as a signature for both students and parents when filing the FAFSA. From there, you will answer each question on the form. With your FSA ID, you can stop working on the application at any time and then resume when it’s convenient for you. You can include up to 10 colleges on your FAFSA form. These colleges will receive a copy of your FAFSA results so that they can build out your financial aid package. Forms are processed in a matter of days, and if you fill out the form online, you can check its progress, receiving notifications when it’s processed or when missing information is required.

What You Need to Apply for FAFSA

In order to complete the FAFSA, you need a variety of documents. It’s best to gather these before you complete the FAFSA: • Your FAFSA ID (if you don't have one, you'll be prompted to sign up for one when you go to fill out your FAFSA). • Your Social Security card and driver's license, and/or alien registration card if you are not a US citizen. • Your income tax returns, W-2 forms and 1099 forms for the previous year. If you're married, you'll also need your spouse's documents. • Your parents' income tax returns, W-2 forms and 1040 forms for the previous year (if you are a dependent student). • Records and documentation of other untaxed income received such as welfare benefits, Social Security income, veteran's benefits, military or clergy allowances (if applicable). • Current bank and brokerage account statements, including records of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments (if applicable). • Business or farm records (if applicable). • Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as anything that changed from last year or anything that distinguishes the family from the typical family. Examples include high unreimbursed medical and dental expenses, unusually high dependent care costs (e.g., for a special needs child or an elderly parent), death, divorce, salary reductions, job loss and private K-12 tuition. (These aren't required, but they could influence the amount of aid received.) • Title IV Institution Codes for each school you are applying to. You can get this code from the school, or you can use FinAid's Title IV School Code Database. Filling out the FAFSA worksheet ahead of time can prepare families for completing the FAFSA application. Students and families can also find help completing the form from as well as FAFSA Completion events in their local community. Ask your school counselor about school or local FAFSA events.

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