Although most colleges and universities ask students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), many applicants don’t know what it is. The application allows the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to review a student’s financial situation and determine if they qualify for federal and state grants, loans, and scholarships. Many colleges, foundations, and government agencies use FAFSA information to decide how much aid to give each student.

Over 19 million students completed the FAFSA during the 2015-2016 application cycle. Federal Student Aid

According to the “FAFSA Data by Demographic Characteristics Report,” over 19 million students completed the FAFSA during the 2015-2016 application cycle. Students should fill out the FAFSA as early as possible to ensure they can receive the most aid possible. The application opens on Oct. 1 the year before students begin class, and closes on June 30 the following year. Each state sets its own deadlines for grants and scholarships. Be sure to check requirements for both your state and university.

To access the FAFSA, students need to visit the official site and create a PIN number. Users can start uploading important information such as their Social Security number, tax returns, and driver’s license number. The agency needs this information to verify each applicant’s identity. To make the process easier, FAFSA includes an IRS data retrieval tool. This tool retrieves the student’s tax returns from the IRS database and automatically fills in the information on the form.

The FAFSA for Teaching Students

All college students, regardless of major or school, fill out the same application form. Consequently, there is no special FAFSA for teaching students. However, education majors often receive special awards unavailable to other students. For example, TEACH grants and public service loan forgiveness programs both specifically assist educators in high-demand, low-income, or public service positions. The FAFSA also calculates your eligibility for awards such as the Pell Grant and federal work-study. Through work-study, students may find on-campus teaching and research assistant positions. Finally, the FAFSA calculates the maximum federal loan each student can receive.

FAFSA Funding

Scholarships, grants, and loans differ in several ways. Scholarships are merit-based awards distributed to students that meet certain eligibility requirements. Grants, on the other hand, usually provide funding to students with low income or other financial hardship. People consider grants and scholarships “free” money because applicants do not have to repay these awards. However, students may need to repay a grant if they withdraw from school, change their enrollment status from full time to part time, or receive additional grants that change their financial status.

The FAFSA determines aid packages by assessing a student’s income and assets, including their checking account, savings account, and investments.

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans accrue interest and must be repaid. The federal government distributes both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest until students graduate or leave school, while unsubsidized loans begin to accrue interest immediately. The government uses a student’s tax and income information to determine maximum loan amount. The ED then distributes the funds directly to the school. Students can receive a refund for any additional funds remaining after tuition and other expenses are paid.

The ED also offers tax benefits, incentives for high-need occupations, vouchers, and specialized programs for military personnel. Students may also receive work-study packages. Federal and state work-study allows students to work on campus to pay for a portion of their tuition or other expenses.

The FAFSA determines aid packages by assessing a student’s income and assets, including their checking account, savings account, and investments. If the student is a dependent, the school reviews their parent or guardian’s information and calculates expected family contribution (EFC). EFC refers to the amount of money the government expects families to contribute to a student’s educational expenses.

FAFSA Eligibility Requirements

Students must meet certain eligibility requirements before receiving financial aid consideration from FAFSA. Basic requirements include a high school diploma or GED and a valid Social Security number. Before receiving aid, students must also submit proof of acceptance into a higher education institution. The application also checks each applicant’s citizenship status. Non-citizens must produce their green card, arrival-departure record, battered immigrant status, or “T” visa documentation. Men aged 18-25 must register with the selective service to complete their applications.

How to Complete the FAFSA

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

The FAFSA helps families secure additional funding for student education. The first-come, first-served distribution method benefits applicants that file early, but experts suggest that some families should wait until they pay off certain debts. Although the IRS does not investigate a family’s credit cards and loans, they do take an overall look at their financial obligations.

The Federal Student Aid Agency releases the FAFSA every year on Oct. 1. Most schools and state agencies ask students to complete the FAFSA several months before classes begin. Make sure to check FAFSA deadlines for your college and state.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?

Completing the FAFSA may seem like a lengthy process if students do not prepare the necessary documents. Students must keep several documents on hand for quick reference. Dependent students should collect all of the primary documents from their parents. Independent students submit their own documents.To begin the process, get a copy of your Social Security card and driver’s license. Some people memorize their Social Security or alien registration number but most need the physical card.

Applicants should also gather their tax records from previous years. Although FAFSA uses an IRS Data Retrieval tool, students should still keep tax records on file. In addition to tax records, FAFSA needs records of untaxed income and assets. Lastly, students need to submit a list of their potential schools to FAFSA. FAFSA uses the list to send all of the applicant’s financial aid information to each institution. Using the information, the school tailors a package to meet the student’s financial needs.

Filling Out Your FAFSA

You can access the FAFSA by either using the online form or downloading a PDF. Students that want to fill out a paper application must contact the Federal Student Aid office to request a form. Nowadays, many students find the online application much easier to complete. Paper forms can take longer to process, and do not automatically fill in IRS data.

You can access the FAFSA by either using the online form or downloading a PDF.

On the form, students fill out pertinent information regarding their household, identity, finances, and enrollment status. For instance, applicants need to let FAFSA know if they still live with and/or depend on their parents. The form also asks if the applicant previously defaulted on any student loans. At the end of the application, students sign a statement certifying that all of their information is correct. Once the applicant signs the statement, they give the ED permission to review their information through the IRS and other agencies. If students purposely submit the wrong information, they can be fined up to $20,000.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA

  • Apply Online

    The FAFSA takes less time to process online applications. Users also have the option to skip non-relevant questions and fix errors on the form.

  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool

    The data retrieval tool takes information directly from the student’s tax return and uses it to populate financial information. The tool reduces errors and the time it takes to fill in the form.

  • List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order

    List schools according to their individual FAFSA deadlines. Schools with early deadlines need the information as soon as possible.

  • Fill Out Every Field of the Form

    Filling out every field reduces the chances of FAFSA pulling your file for further verification. Fill in as much information as you can. You can skip fields that do not apply to you, if instructed to do so.

  • Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances

    Consider writing a letter explaining certain circumstances such as an illness or another issue that might affect aid. If you recently lost a job or experienced hardship, be sure to indicate your current financial situation is different from the previous tax year.

Submitting the FAFSA

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?

The FAFSA needs an electronic signature for online forms and a physical signature for paper applications. The FSA ID doubles as the student’s signature. Online applicants can also print a signature page and upload or mail it in. After submitting their signatures, applicants receive a confirmation number.

Student Aid Report

The student aid report (SAR) tells students their EFC and estimated aid package. The SAR also includes a data release number that allows each applicant’s school to change or update information on the FAFSA. The agency either mails the form to students or sends it electronically. If the agency sends the SAR by mail, students may receive an acknowledgement form instead of a report. The acknowledgement form lists standard information but doesn’t allow students to make any corrections. To fix mistakes, students need to log into their online FAFSA account. After students alter the SAR, FAFSA sends out another report to the schools.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?

Once FAFSA creates an aid package, they send an offer letter to the student. The offer letter arrives after the SAR. To accept or refuse the offer, students should respond to the aid letter. The agency recommends accepting scholarships and grants first. If these amounts do not cover enough expenses, students should then accept the loan offers. Aid letters come with a set deadline, and students need to respond by the posted date.


What’s the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?

The official federal deadline for filing the FAFSA is June 30. However, schools can set their own individual deadlines. Student should submit any corrections by Sept. 14.

Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?

FAFSA does not look at a student’s academic record when initially distributing aid. As students advance through their college career, FAFSA starts looking at academic record.

Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?

Students can receive FAFSA at any age. Adult learners should still apply for aid regardless of their age or financial background.

Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?

Students in any tax bracket can get financial aid. FAFSA does not set any income cut-offs. The ED considers many different factors when determining packages. In addition to household income, FAFSA also accounts for aspects such as whether other individuals in the house currently attend college.

Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?

Non-citizens can receive federal financial aid as long as they legally reside in the country. FAFSA asks for proof of legal residence.

How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?

It takes approximately an hour to fill out the FAFSA form. Students and parents should have their documents readily available to speed up the process.

Can You File Your FAFSA Before You’ve Applied to Any Schools?

FAFSA requires you to submit a list of schools you applied to. The Department of Education needs this information to send the SAR to each school’s financial aid office.

Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?

StudentAid.ed.gov is the official website for FAFSA information. The FAFSA.ed.gov website is where students register and fill out the form.