Learn About the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA)

The cost to attend college continues to increase. Even if you take a half-load of courses, you will pay hundreds of dollars for your education.

Beyond the cost of tuition is the additional expense of books, food and lodging. Thankfully you do not have to pay for college all on your own.

Three main ways exist for you to obtain money for college: grants, student loans, and scholarships.

Grants and scholarships are considered “gift aid” because the amounts awarded do not have to be repaid.

Loans are sums of money you borrow with the expectation of repayment. Loans are offer as subsidized or unsubsidized.

Additionally, Federal Work-Study is offered via FAFSA.

To be eligible for most types of financial aid, you must complete an application, referred to as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

FAFSA is an application program used to determine your eligibility for different sources of financial assistance.

This is a one-stop shop to streamline the financial aid disbursement process. Not everyone who applies for FAFSA is eligible for financial assistance.

For more information on FAFSA, check out the following topics.

Who qualifies for FAFSA?

FAFSA is strict about the eligibility requirements for students.

Basic criteria state a student must demonstrate financial need, be a U.S. Citizen or eligible non-citizen, and have a valid Social Security Number (SSN).

Students provide a high school diploma or GED, proof of acceptance to an eligible certificate program or degree and must be enrolled at least half-time.

If you are a male between 18 and 25 years of age, requirements state you must register with selective services.

Finally, sign the certification statement of the FAFSA application. The certification statement ensures:

  • You did not default on federal student loans.
  • You do not owe money on any grants.
  • You will use federal funding for strictly educational purposes.

Once your eligibility for FAFSA is established, your requirements are not over. To continue receiving financial aid you must reapply each year.

Additionally, as a student you must continue to meet milestones for academic progress and maintain appropriate GPA levels.

Failure to comply with these regulations results in discontinuation of financial assistance. 

Learn About the Types of Available Aid

Grants, scholarships, and loans are all available through FAFSA. Under each category of aid, specific awards are available, and each has their own requirements.

Under the grants and scholarship category, four main awards are available:

  • Federal Pell Grants.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.

Grants like the Federal Pell Grant are need based. Students who display financial need and those who are unable to attend college without assistance are offered grants. Scholarships are offered based on merit, meaning you continue to achieve high academic success or athletic success. Many scholarships come with GPA or minimum credit-hour requirements.

Loans are easier to obtain than grants or scholarships and are offered through federal or private lenders.

Federal lenders provide direct loans, either subsidized or unsubsidized. When you take out a loan, it accrues interest over time.

With a subsidized loan, your institution pays the compounding interest. You are responsible for paying the interest on unsubsidized loans. Four main direct loans are available through FAFSA:

  • Subsidized loans
  • Unsubsidized loans
  • Consolidation loans
  • PLUS loans

The Federal Work-Study is a special program providing part-time jobs to students demonstrating financial need.

Often Federal Work-Study places you into a job in your course of study to provide real-world experience alongside financial assistance.

It is available for all levels of study and part or full-time students. The amount of the award depends on when you apply, the level of funding available at your institution, and your financial need.

What Do You Need to Apply for FAFSA?

Gather all necessary documentation before you fill out the FAFSA application. Being organized and having all necessary documents in reach speeds up the process.

To file for FAFSA, you are asked to provide the following:

  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number
  • Bank statements (if applicable)
  • Any investments (if applicable)
  • Federal income tax returns and other income records
  • Untaxed income records
  • FSA ID

The FSA ID is necessary for creating your username and password for FAFSA’s online database.

It speeds up the application process, provides an additional layer of security for sensitive data, and makes it easier to renew your application the following year.

If you are a dependent student, meaning your parents still financially support you, your parents must provide documentation as well.

FAFSA has separate sections for parents and students to fill out.

Learn About Submission Dates for FAFSA

Depending on the state and year you are applying, the dates to submit FAFSA are subject to change.

It is important to note federal and college deadlines are not always the same. You do not have to submit your application on the first day applications are due but FAFSA is a first-come, first-serve basis.

The earlier you turn in your form, the better your chances of receiving the full financial assistance. If you are unsure of the deadline, call your institution’s federal aid office for more information.

How to File for Corrections

After the application is submitted, your application is provided to your future or current institution. Check the status of your form either online or by contacting the Federal Student Aid information center.

Three to seven days after submission, your Student Aid Report (SAR) arrives in the mail detailing the application you submitted. Check this report to ensure the information is correct.

Check over your application before submitting it. In the event you made a mistake and submitted the application, FAFSA does offer you the chance to make corrections.

Corrections include adding or removing colleges, correcting almost any field of the application, and updating mailing and emailing addresses.

The one field you cannot go back and correct is your Social Security Number (SSN). Once the SSN is submitted the first time, it is locked into the form.