FAFSA – Why You Need It, How to Start

The FAFSA is extremely important. It opens the door to $80 billion in federal money, plus financial aid from states and colleges. If you want help paying for college, it’s vital. You can’t afford to ignore this form.

Here’s what you need to know about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Most financial aid, of any type, requires FAFSA. You need to complete this form to be eligible for most forms of financial aid. Many colleges and states use a student’s FAFSA information to award their own grants and scholarships. In fact, many schools require the FAFSA as part of their scholarship application. Specifically, FAFSA opens the door to:

  • Need aid, such as government funded Pell grants, which you don’t have to repay and are awarded for financial need
  • Merit aid, like grants and scholarships, which you don’t have to repay and are awarded by colleges for student accomplishments
  • State sponsored financial aid
  • Student loans, which you must repay
  • Federal work study programs

Start the application as early as possible in January.

You can submit your FAFSA starting Jan. 1 of your senior year. Cappex recommends gathering all the information you will need for FAFSA during the fall. The application is eight pages long and requires you to reference a host of forms and information – including driver’s license, your family’s tax returns, bank statements and Social Security numbers – that take time to gather.

Why start so early? FAFSA takes time, and you’ll want to complete your FAFSA at the beginning of the year – some states have deadlines as early as February 15. Many colleges and states have their own deadlines for receiving FAFSA that relates to their financial aid programs – they may need your FAFSA by March 1.

You don’t have to do all the work at once. FAFSA allows you to save your work for up to 45 days.

How to file. The best way to file FAFSA is online. Start with the “FAFSA on the Web” form which clearly outlines everything you need to file. Completing this worksheet will save you time once you start the actual FAFSA.

Once you enter all of your information, double-check your work and print out a copy to keep for your records. After your FAFSA is filed, you can log on and check the status at any time.

For more information, to apply, and to download all FAFSA forms necessary, visit www.fafsa.ed.gov.

You can also check out Cappex to explore the wealth of scholarship resources and additional financial aid information.