If you're new to the student loans process but know you might want some, your first step in figuring out your financial aid is completing the FAFSA.
Applying to college is stressful. You have mountains of essays to write, fears around acceptance, and the massive burden of figuring out how you're even going to pay for it all. You may have started researching different student loans depending on your financial need. If you're new to the student loans process but know you might want some, your first step in figuring out your financial aid is completing the FAFSA.
What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA (sorta rhymes with “NASA”) stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a way for the federal government to see if you qualify for financial aid, also known as federal student aid. If you qualify, you could receive grants, scholarships, or other federal programs like federal work-study or federal loans.
These are collectively considered financial student aid, the FSA in FAFSA. The FA (free application) is the actual form you fill out.
Who is eligible for FAFSA?
If you're an aspiring college student, you're likely eligible. Here’s what you need to have lined up to begin the financial aid process:
A high school diploma or GED
Enrollment or acceptance for enrollment in an eligible degree program
If you're male, selective service registration
A valid Social Security number
No negative prior history with federal financial aid (such as defaulting on a previous federal student loan)
A signed statement confirming you'll be using any student aid for academic purposes (not jet skis or a PS5)
Satisfactory academic progress in high school (aka, good grades)
Foreign students are also eligible for federal aid via FAFSA. There are some different requirements, the biggest of which is obtaining Permanent Resident status (aka, getting a green card). FAFSA only looks at the student's residence status, meaning a student's parents' status is not considered.
Find more information about the FAFSA application and eligibility requirements at the FAFSA website: https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/eligibility.
When is the FAFSA due?
The federal deadline to submit your 2022-2023 FAFSA is June 30, 2023. This is the FAFSA deadline to keep in mind if you want the funding to begin during the Fall 2022 term.
States will also look at your submission to see if you qualify for any state-level assistance. State deadlines vary. For example, Louisiana has a FAFSA deadline of July 1, but Delaware has a FAFSA deadline of April 15. You can find your state's deadline on the FAFSA website.
A common mistake people make is only checking the state deadline for where they live, and not for where they are applying. If you apply to an out-of-state institution, then your FAFSA needs to meet that state's deadline.
Juggling these deadlines can be tricky, especially if you are applying to multiple schools across multiple states. We recommend you research those dates ASAP, write them down, then put it somewhere prominent (tape it to your mirror, or inside your locker). Missing a deadline could literally cost you thousands of dollars.
Remember that every application comes with an application fee. Focus on the universities that you really want to attend and give them your best work.
Tips for filling out the FAFSA
You can access the FAFSA for the next academic year as early as October 1. FAFSA takes a first come, first served approach. The earlier you apply, the better your odds at receiving a financial aid offer.
Gather your required documents.
Remember, faster is better. To apply, you will need:
Social Security Card
Prior year's W-2 forms
Prior year's Federal Income Tax Return*
Prior year's untaxed income records*
Current bank statements
If you are a dependent, you will need the above documents from your parents.
*When we say prior year, we mean the year before you are completing the financial aid process. For example, if you want to go to school starting in Fall 2023, you should start filling out the FAFSA in 2022, and you (or your guardians) will need to provide financial documents from 2021.
Don't leave blank fields.
Instead, enter "0" or "N/A". Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
Take advantage of time savers.
Besides using an FSA ID, another way to speed up the application process is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. This handy tool automatically populates answers to some questions on the FAFSA with information from you or your guardians’ federal income tax returns. This saves time and ensures accurate numbers.
Add all your schools.
One of the biggest mistakes students make is not adding all their schools to the FAFSA form. Initially, you can only add 10, but after you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), you can send your FAFSA information to all the schools on your list. Even if you replace one school’s code with another one, it will never delete your financial information from that university's system.
A common mistake college students make is believing that the FAFSA is only for freshmen. It's not.
You should renew your FAFSA every year you are enrolled for several reasons.
If any parent information has changed. For example, if your parents’ financial situation has changed, you might be eligible for additional federal aid.
Some opportunities and scholarships are only available to students that have completed at least one year of university.
If you applied late as an incoming freshman, you likely missed out on some financial aid. A common form of aid that runs out early is the Pell Grant. Learn from your mistake and make sure you apply as close to October 1 of your sophomore year as you can. Learn more about the Pell Grant here.
You might be eligible for a federal loan. Federal loans are preferable to other loans because they typically have the best interest rates.
Correcting your FAFSA
There are a few scenarios where you might want to correct your FAFSA. For example, you want to add a college, update contact information, or change some of your financials.
It's really easy to do. Just log into your online FAFSA form and click "Make FAFSA Corrections." Changes will take effect in three to five days.
But remember, there's a deadline for everything (welcome to college). The 2022-2023 deadline for making changes to your FASFA application is September 9, 2023.
If you need any additional help, you can always call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800.433.3243.