Understanding Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

fafsa application

When you are looking for ways to pay for college, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should be at the top of your list. FAFSA provides more than $120 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds to over 13 million students each year. Those numbers are staggering and the reason why they are the biggest provider of student aid in the country. All U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens can fill out the FAFSA. And aid is not limited to graduating high schoolers and undergraduates. All students who are pursuing a degree may qualify for aid.

Why It’s Important To Fill Out FAFSA

Some colleges and universities will not consider a student for scholarships until they have submitted a FAFSA application. Therefore, it’s important you complete one even if you think you won’t qualify for federal aid.

Preparing For The FAFSA

The FAFSA is designed to be simple to fill out so don’t stress. There will be tips throughout the application that will help you understand the questions they are asking. Most students finish filling out the application in less than 30 minutes.

Information Needed To Fill Out The FAFSA

A student will need to register to get a username and password. This is called an FSA ID. The FAFSA asks questions about you and your finances, so you will need to gather this information before you begin the application.

  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number
  • Federal Tax Information Or Tax Returns
  • Records Of Untaxed Income
  • Cash, Savings, And Checking Account Balances
  • Investments Other Than The Home You Live In (i.e. child support, stocks, veteran income)

If you don’t have all your information ready that’s okay. You can start the application save it and come back later to finish it.

*This Is Very Important*

To find out whether you need to report information about your parents you will need to visit: StudentAid/Dependency.

If you are a dependent student, you will need to report your parents’ information. This section can get a little confusing as sometimes it is hard to know who counts as your parent, and what you do if you don’t live with a parent, have a step-parent, or if you don’t have access to your parent’s information. The federal student aid programs are based on the concept that it is primarily your and your family’s responsibility to pay for your education. A dependent student is assumed to have the support of parents, so the parents’ information has to be assessed along with the student’s, in understanding the family’s financial strength. If you’re a dependent student, it doesn’t mean your parents will be required to pay anything toward your education. The information is simply used to determine the student’s maximum eligibility for federal student aid.

Transfer Tax Information Into Your FAFSA

A student may be able to retrieve and transfer tax information into the form automatically using the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT). Be sure to keep an eye out for that option when you are filling out the application, it will save a lot of time.

a chart that show how to transfer tax information into FAFSA

Filling Out The FAFSA

Each October, the application is available for the next school year. It’s important to fill it out as soon as you can to meet school and state financial aid deadlines. Each state and college will have its own FAFSA deadline. Check a college’s deadline on its website or by calling its financial aid office. Most of the state deadlines are available at FAFSA Deadlines.

There are several different submission options. You can use an electronic form via FASFA, download a PDF, and mail in an application, or ask your college to submit an electronic submission for you.

Listing Colleges And/Or Career Schools

While completing the FAFSA form, they will require you to list at least one school to receive your information. I recommend that you add any college that you plan on applying to. It makes no difference if you’ve been accepted or not. If it’s a possibility list it. The schools you list will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of aid you may receive.

How The FAFSA Is Processed

After you submit your application, it will be sent to the colleges and or career schools you listed on the form. You will receive an e-mail within a few days, letting you know that your FASFA was processed. Your college or career school might request additional information from you. Make sure you respond by any deadlines.

First-Time Applicant:

If you are a first-time applicant, you will receive an aid offer from each school you applied to and listed on your FAFSA, stating the amount of aid you could receive at the school.

Renewal Applicant:

If you are a renewal applicant, you will receive an aid offer from your school stating the amount of aid you could receive at the school.

Once a student accepts the school aid offer the school will handle your aid. Ask the financial aid office when and how they will pay out your aid, what it will cover, and how much money will come directly to you after paying for your tuition and fees.

2023–24 FAFSA Form Available

The new 2023–24 FAFSA form is currently open. Some states and schools have limited funds, so don’t delay. To begin your application, select the “START HERE” button on the FAFSA homepage. If you need help at any time here is the FAFSA phone number, 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

If you are looking for other ways To Pay For College Without Student Loans, here is a great list.


Sensei Side Note:

Don’t think for a minute if you don’t qualify or fill out the FAFSA you can’t graduate college debt-free. I’ve earned 3 degrees and never filled out FAFSA once and I received scholarships. I’m proof that you can. Also, every scholarship I received was sent to my college. I had to go to the financial aid office to get the check. Every single time the financial aid office refused to give me the check because I did not have FAFSA on file. I was told, “how do we know if you have financial need”. I would then explain that the scholarship I was receiving was not “need-based” therefore, they did not need to confirm. Typically, this was all that was needed.

However, I did have one financial aid office worker who was insistent that they could not release funds under any circumstances because I did not have a FAFSA on file. I told her to look at my history and that in previous semesters I had scholarships paid out. She still refused and claimed that I shouldn’t have received them. I simply called the organization that gave me the scholarship and had them talk to the worker. The worker was insistent with them as well, fortunately, the company I received the scholarship from was just as insistent and told them to send the check back to them and they would just send me the money. That worked, and she released my funds.