Even with the new school year just getting underway, college students and families should already be preparing for the year ahead. Starting on October 1st, students can begin submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, most commonly known as FAFSA. In this article, find out what you need to know about completing the form.

What is the FAFSA for?

The FAFSA is the form used by the federal and state government, as well as some colleges themselves, to award financial aid. This includes a variety of types such as grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. Though some private scholarships do not require the FAFSA to be completed, roughly $150 billion of federal and state financial aid is only accessible through the FAFSA.

Who can file the FAFSA?

Nearly every college student with the following is able to file the FAFSA:

  • Be a citizen or eligible noncitizen of the United States
  • Have a valid Social Security Number
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Enrolled as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate
  • Maintain satisfactory academic performance
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan
  • Registered with the Selective Service System, if a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs while receiving federal student aid (may still be eligible or partially eligible)

The FAFSA is similar to a credit card application where applicants can get either more or less financial aid depending on their financial situation.

However, even students who do not qualify for grants or scholarships should file to gain access to attractive student loan rates and higher admission chances.

Does it matter when I file?

While the FAFSA can be completed anytime from October 1st to June 29th for many states, there are different deadlines throughout the country. Last year, there were 13 states that awarded funds on a first-come, first-served basis. Students in these states should complete the application as soon as possible or risk losing out on funds. Additionally, some schools are now processing decisions for admissions and aid applications earlier, which gives early applicants more time to weigh different options.

To determine the deadline for your state, visit https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm

How do I file?

New this year for the FAFSA is the ability to complete the form via the U.S. Department of Education’s official mobile app, myStudentAid. Like previous years, the application can still be completed online at https://fafsa.ed.gov/ or requested via mail by calling 1-800-433-3243.

What will I need to complete the form?

Students will need the following information for completing the FAFSA:

  • Social Security Number
  • Alien Registration Number (if not a U.S. citizen)
  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable)
  • An FSA ID to sign the form electronically

Importing tax return information can be expedited by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which can be found within the FAFSA form under the finances section. More information on this can be found at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources/irs-drt-text

If you are a dependent student, then you will also need to submit this information for your parent(s). Most incoming college students are dependent, but more information can be found at https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1819/help/fftoc02k.htm.

Students who are considering multiple universities should include each on their FAFSA. Doing so will not have a negative impact on your admission chances.


What can I expect after completing the FAFSA?

Within three to five days after submitting the FAFSA, you will be sent a Student Aid Report (SAR) that contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is a measure of your family’s financial strength. Colleges will use this EFC to determine the amount in grants, loans, and work-study you are eligible for. Finally, your college will send you a financial aid award letter that details the total financial aid you are eligible to receive.

Your SAR will be delivered via email, or via postal mail if no valid email address is on file. Should any areas of the application be incomplete, these will be highlighted under the ‘Make FAFSA Corrections’ tab of your application.