FAFSA: What It Is and Why It’s Important

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a free application that you can file online to determine how much you’ll have to pay for college. It helps bridge the gap between a college’s sticker price and how much you’re able to pay by showing you what government loans, grants, or work-study programs you qualify for.

Students should fill out the FAFSA every year.

A Breakdown of the FAFSA
The FAFSA is broken up into several sections. They include the following sections.

  • Student information
  • Student’s dependency status
  • Student’s parent’s information
  • Finances
  • A list of the schools that should receive the FAFSA results

You can fill out the FAFSA for free, and it’s preferred if you do it online.  The online application guides you through each step and allows you to save your work in case you need to finish it later. You’ll also receive your results quickly. If you provide an email address you may receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) that contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) within three to five days. If you choose an option besides email, you SAR may take a little longer.

I have my EFC and SAR. Now what?
The SAR summarizes your information from the FAFSA and is sent out to the schools you designated to receive information to determine if you qualify for financial aid. Your EFC is calculated based on your family’s income, assets, size, the age of your older parent, and the number of children who will be in college at the same time.

The difference between the Cost of Attendance, (your tuition, books, room and board) and the Expected Family Contribution equals your financial need.

Once you receive your SAR, check to make sure that it’s accurate. If it isn’t, fix the mistakes and a corrected SAR will be sent to you. Your schools will receive this information in an Institutional Student Aid Report (ISAR) and then use it to send you a financial aid award letter. The letter will offer you a financial aid package based on your SAR and EFC; it will include offers for grants, loans and work-study to cover the cost of your tuition. Compare schools and find out which one offers you more aid.

Helpful Hints

  • The federal deadline for FAFSA is June 30th, but many schools have earlier deadlines. The sooner the you file your FAFSA the better chance you have of maximizing the amount of aid you’ll receive.
  • The application opens on January 1st. Apply right on or after this date.
  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to make the FAFSA process easier. Find out how to do this here.
  • If your parents haven’t filed their taxes in January, don’t worry, just put in their numbers from the year before. Once you get all the necessary forms and complete your tax return, you can file a FAFSA correction if needed.
  • Many scholarships require that you demonstrate financial need. Based on your EFC, you can qualify for many private and college scholarships.
  • Correct mistakes as soon as you can. This will ensure that your schools receive the most accurate FAFSA.