Just about every student will need some kind of financial aid to pay for college, so we think everyone should fill out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Even if you think you might not qualify for aid, filling out the application is free and you might be leaving funds on the table by not applying.
Notice the word “free” there. If anyone tries to charge you to fill out this form or to help you access it, you may have run into a scam. Find someone trustworthy who can help you.
What information do I need?
Gather your Social Security Number, your parent’s Social Security Numbers if you are a dependent student. Also your driver’s license number, federal tax returns, and records of any untaxed income you have. You’ll also provide information on the cash you have on hand, including parental assets if you are a dependent student.
Where do I go to fill it out?
You can go straight to the FAFSA Application on the US Department of Education web site to get started now, or read on for more information about FAFSA.
When can I apply?
The FAFSA is available at the beginning of the year—usually early in January. There may be deadlines based on your state or college; for federal aid, you need to fill out the application by mid year. Some grants might need your application in January, so you’ll have to fill out the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available.
How do I fill it out?
We strongly recommend you use the online form linked above. It’s much easier than filling out a paper form. You can, if you must, get a PDF version to print and fill out from the Department of Education site. You’d file that paper version with your college’s financial aid office.
What happens next?
The form, along with your expected family contribution information, is shared by your school, state agencies, and the federal government. They use this information to determine how much aid you qualify for. It takes a week to ten days for the form to be processed, and you can check the progress on the fafsa.gov web site. You’ll get a formal report from the Department of Education within 3 weeks of your application. This report isn’t your award letter—that comes from your school’s financial aid office.
The financial aid office at your school will let you know when you will get the money, and how it will be paid to you. First, you’ll need to formally accept the aid, and that may include filling out forms or getting financial counseling so you fully understand your obligations with regard to the financial aid you’re getting.
You’ll fill out a new FAFSA every year that you are in school, but the process is relatively easy and quick.