FAFSA Basics: How to Apply for Financial Aid

FAFSA Basics: How to Apply for Financial Aid

If you have questions about the FAFSA, you’re not alone. Every day, all around the country, college-bound students (and their parents) are hopping on their devices to ask the same acronym-laden questions you are. Questions like… 

What Is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the form you fill out in order to access financial aid from the federal government to help with your college expenses (tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, and other education-related costs).

Why Should I fill out the FAFSA?

The Department of Education sets aside over 120 billion dollars in federal grants, low-interest loans, and work-study awards every year. These funds bring financial relief to over 13 million college students each year. That could be you!

To be considered for any of this aid, you must fill out the FAFSA. That’s your first step. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.

My Parents Probably Earn Too Much Money. Is Filling out the FAFSA a Waste of Time?

You don’t have to come from a low-income family to receive federal aid. The only way to find out if you are eligible for assistance is to apply. Millions of dollars are left unclaimed each year, so don’t miss out because you assume you won’t be eligible. 

Another thing to consider: the FAFSA is a necessary application that goes beyond the federal assistance level. Many states and colleges utilize your FAFSA in determining your eligibility for their scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and merit awards.

How do I Fill out the FAFSA?

Very few people download and print out a PDF of the FAFSA, but that is an option if you prefer. (You can find the PDF here.)

The most convenient way to fill out the FAFSA is to do so online at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa. You can also download the accompanying app — myStudentAid app (available for iOS and Android).

The online form is easy and user-friendly. You’ll be instructed to create your own FSA ID, and if you are a minor, a legal guardian will also need to create a FSA ID. You will use your FSA ID as identity confirmation throughout your application process. 

When entering the previous year’s tax information, there is a super-convenient IRS Data Retrieval Tool that will digitally fill in the necessary information to save time and avoid potential errors. (This is where your guardian will use his/her FSA ID.)

Best of all, there is no cost involved with the FAFSA. This is a free application.

When Should I File My FAFSA?

The earlier the better! FAFSA funds are usually distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so don’t wait to apply. You can file as early as October 1st every year for the following school year. 

Note: If you are also interested in applying for additional financial aid from your state or from a college, make sure you do the research and know the relevant state and school deadlines.

What if I Haven’t Decided What College I’m Attending?

You are permitted to enter up to 10 potential colleges on your FAFSA, and you can always change those schools after completing your FAFSA. So, don’t delay applying for financial aid just because you haven’t decided on a program or received a letter of acceptance. 

Is There a Maximum Age Limit for FAFSA?

There is absolutely no maximum age limit for receiving federal financial aid. You don’t have to be right out of high school to file your FAFSA. 

How Often Do I Fill out the FAFSA?

If you plan to apply for financial aid throughout your time in college, you will need to submit the FAFSA in each academic year you are requesting aid. 

Those are the basic need to knows regarding the FAFSA. Remember, if you are planning to apply for financial aid, don’t put it off. Funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so begin your application process today.

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