Listen up, all you U.S. college-bound and college students (undergrad and grad). After January 1 of the current year, you need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to apply for any federal student aid, such as grants, loans, or work-study programs. After you submit the FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education will process your application and you will receive a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR summarizes the information you provided on your FAFSA and will include your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC determines your eligibility for Federal grants, and colleges use the EFC to determine your eligibility for other federal and nonfederal student aid. Your SAR is sent to the college(s) you listed on your FAFSA, and each college will use this information to create your award package and disburse your financial aid. *Note: Listing a college on your FAFSA does not guarantee that the college will create an award package for you. You should contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend to learn about the specific requirements for receiving financial aid at that college.
Students should complete the FAFSA between January 1 and June 30 for the current school year; however, many states and colleges have their own deadlines. You can find your state’s deadline at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm. Check with the college that you are planning to attend to find out about its deadlines.
You must submit a FAFSA every year that you want financial aid. There are three ways to file a FAFSA. You can apply online using FAFSA on the Web at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov. Another option is to complete a PDF FAFSA, which is available for you to print and fill out manually, or it is screen-fillable, which means you can enter your data on the screen before printing. PDF FAFSAs must be mailed in for processing. Finally, you can request a paper FAFSA by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.
Using FAFSA on the Web is preferable because your application will process within 3-5 days, as opposed to 7-10 days with the PDF or paper mail-in options. The official FAFSA website has step-by-step instructions available to help you complete the form. If you have any technical questions about using FAFSA on the Web, you can use their online chat service to chat live with a FAFSA customer service representative.
The FAFSA requires you to enter your federal tax return information and details about any other money you earned for the year. This information may not be available until the end of January (or later), so you can wait until you (or your parents) file your income taxes for the year before completing your FAFSA, or you can use estimates from the previous year’s tax return. If you use last year’s information, be sure to return to the FAFSA website after you (or your parents) file your taxes to correct any differences between the estimated values and the actual values.
Get started early. Gather your documents. Be accurate. This is important. Your college financial aid in the future depends on it!