The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (commonly known as the FAFSA) is a must-have form for everyone applying to college.
The FAFSA is completed annually by college applicants and students, and is the key tool used to determine a student's ability to qualify for student financial aid. This aid includes scholarships, subsidized student loans, work-study programs, and Pell Grants.
FAFSA provides access to federal and state student aid programs, as well as the great majority of the institutional aid which is avaialble in the U. S. For a concise summary about the online website and application, see FAFSA.ed.gov.
See this page's section on Eligibility to determine yours. Additional good news is that, as recently as 2010, the government has made the FAFSA form much easier to fill out! And, in September 2015 some great changes were announced – they are described in the NEWS section below.
Get your application in as early as possible for the best chance to get all the aid you can qualify for - it can make a difference in how much your receive!
Discover your program today!
Update November 2017
If you think FAFSA is confusing (it really isn’t) you may find some new recommended financial moves even more so. The good news is that you can now submit your FAFSA in October, rather than waiting till the beginning of the new year. Along with that change, you must now use your “prior prior” year’s reported income when filling out the form. So if your child is a sophomore in high school and will graduate in 2020, 2018 will be the base year for your income on the initial FAFSA you fill out. So ….according to the Wall Street Journal, in order to (legally) minimize your 2018 income, you might want to take steps like moving any income you can from 2018 into 2017; taking money needed from your IRA this year (2017) rather than next; sell appreciated stock you plan to use this year rather than waiting until 2018 — their could be some big gains there you don’t want showing up in your base income year; if you’re planning a major expenditure like a car or home repairs, do it now and pay for it with cash rather than putting it on a credit card. That debt won’t help you on the FAFSA, but cash in the bank will affect (reduce) your award.
June 2017 Update
There are always changes each year that are important for students and parents to know about early on. For the 2018-2019 school year the IRS informations retrieval tool (also known as IRS DRT) will be available once again and there will be more people — both applicants and their parents — who are eligible to use it. A new change will allow those who have filed amended tax returns to use the tool. Also remember that the FAFSA will now available to be completed in October 2017 rather than January 2018 so don’t wait for the new year to get yours filled out and submitted. You should be able to access it on fafsa.gov on Oct 1. (And be sure you are at a .gov site — and that the first “f” in fafsa stands for FREE. You do not have to pay anyone to help you fill out, the Department of Education provides lots of clear instructions.
March2017 Update Even the Wall Street Journal is encouraging just about everyone to fill out the FAFSA regardless of a high income. There’s no set cut-off number for how much is “too much.” Financial awards are based on a combination of family income, the cost of the college you’re going to, and the number of children attending college at the same time. So according to the Journal’s February 2017 article on the topic, you could make as much as $180,000 and still qualify, especially at the more expensive schools. They do add, however, that if you have one child in college and he or she is going to a public college in the state where you live, don’t bother to fill out the FAFSA if your income is over $350,000 and you have assets exceeding $1 million …
November 2016 Update: Important! Remember: The earliest FAFSA filing date changed this year from January 2017 to October 2016. So if you haven’t yet completed and submitted your application for the next academic year, don’t delay any further! The change has been very well received and the number of applications submitted in the first month of filing went up overall by about 21%. Oddly some states numbers declined (including all six of the New England states (?!). If you’re procrastinating, keep in mind that the form is easier to fill out now since you can use tax information from an earlier year rather than having to estimate or complete your 2016 tax forms early. And it’s used to calculate aid not only by the federal government but by many states, schools, and other organizations as well.
News Update August 2016 Several changes are now in place for completing your FAFSA. First, you can file as early as October 1, 2016. You (and/or your parents) will be able to use tax data from 2015 rather than 206, so no problem if they haven't yet filed their 2016 taxes. These are both good news. One bit of bad news is that the amount of savings or assets that are “protected” – i.e. not considered in determining your financial award – is being reduced from $30,000 to $18,700. If your family has that much in savings that could knock down your award for about $540 or so for every $10,000 in assets no longer “protected.” Those in lower income brackets won't be affected though since they typically don't have the assets to protect…
Special Reminder January 2016: As the government benefits site says: you “hafta FAFSA.” The FAFSA is key - and a requirement - to getting everything from work study funds to student loans and grants. These benefits are also available to those going to career schools (not just colleges). The free application is available as of the first of each year. Deadlines vary by state and school so pay attention to the deadlines that pertain to you. Make it a priority this January to get that form filled out!
Think you make too much money? Think again! Plenty of families with higher incomes receive student aid. But too many of them assume they won’t qualify and that it will take a ton of time to fill out the form. In fact, according to the Department of Education, it only takes 23 minutes! If you haven’t done your taxes don’t worry — you can use estimates. And by all means don’t overstate your assets by including things like your retirement accounts, the home equity in your primary residence, and the value of any business you own. You are not required to include these so pay attention to the directions. And get it done early — it makes a big difference to the amount of aid you might be able to get!
News November 2015: The Obama Administration on November 6 announced some new executive actions aimed at raising current standards and accountability for the groups that accredit colleges. Accreditation is required for students at these college to receive any part of the $150 billion awarded every year in government grants and loans for education. Apparently too many schools that receive accreditation do not in fact deliver an education worthy of it. The organizations that provide that endorsement have been referred to as “watchdogs that don't bite.” According to a Wall Street Journal investigation colleges seldom lose their accreditation even if their graduation rates are less than 10%. What does all that mean to you? Mostly that you should be sure to get all the information you can about any school you plan to attend. The administration plans to publish data regarding how accreditors judge student achievement. They also said they will share online copies of the letters that are sent to colleges that are put on probation as well as graduation rates, rates of loan defaults, and student salaries 10 years following their enrollment that college.
NEWS September 2015!: Two important announcements have been made about the FAFSA. First: a drawback in the past has always been that college applications are due in the fall, but the FAFSA cannot be completed until it comes out in January. So some students find they’re in a position where they’ve been accepted to a college they want to attend but they don’t yet know if they will be able to pay for it. The new announcement is that the FAFSA will be released in October rather than in January. That should be a relief to many students who can apply to the colleges they really want and will have a better picture of their finances when acceptances come in. And second: beginning in October 2016 parents will be required to provide their tax data not from the previous year (for which they may not yet have filed their return) but for the “prior prior” year, which will have been returned and on file with the IRS. Therefore the IRS data-retrieval tool that lets one log into the IRS through FAFSA will be able to automatically fill in much of the required information. That will be a definite timesaver, will make the form easier to complete and will and take some pressure off parents who cannot file their returns early.
You also need to remember that a new application must be filed each year to continue receiving assistance. And never assume your family has too much income for you to be eligible - just file!
You must update new information each year. The FAFSA includes numerous questions (well over 100) regarding each student's (and family's) financial status. The government uses that information to claculate the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC). Many factors go into the determination of the EFC, such as number of people in the family, income, number of students from the household in college, and assets (excluding retirement and 401(k) funds). Determination of the EFC is required even if the student's family will not be assisting the student with his or her education expenses.
Parents rave about this newly revised and updated guide – including a step-by-step guide to filling out the FAFSA. Learn the tips and tricks to getting the most financial aid possible:
These are the basic criteria for eligibility:
- The student must be either a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or an eligible non-citizen;
- the student must have a legitimate Social Security number;
- the student must have a high school diploma or GED; adult students may pass an Ability-to-Benefit test;
- male candidates between 18 and 25 must be registered with the U.S. Selective Service;
- the student must promise to use any federal aid for education purposes;
- the student may not currently be obligated to pay any refunds on federal student grants;
- the student must not be in arrears on any student loans; and
- the student must never been convicted of selling or possessing illegal drugs while receiving federal aid.
One more note: In addition to Federal Student Aid, don't forget about Scholarships! Check out our latest article on Scholarships for High School Seniors.