FAFSA and Financial Aid FAQs

Get quick answers to some of the most common questions about FAFSA and the financial aid process.

Grades 9-12 10 min Resource by:
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What is federal student aid?

Federal student aid is money that comes from the U.S. Department of Education. These funds help a student pay for education expenses at a postsecondary school. Federal student aid covers such expenses as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation.

What are the types of student aid?

There are three main categories of federal student aid: grants, work-study, and loans.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA is short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA is the application that you need to complete in order to qualify for federal financial aid. This aid includes student loans and grants. The funds may be used for the costs of attending postsecondary education, including two-year community and junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, technical, vocational, and trade schools, and graduate school. This application also triggers automatic consideration for many state- and school-sponsored grants, work-studies, and scholarships. You can access the FAFSA site through the Federal Student Aid website. You can also navigate to fafsa.gov directly in your web browser.

How much does it cost to apply for financial aid?

The application process through FAFSA is free.

Do I need to be an American citizen to complete the FAFSA?

No. The FAFSA is available to both U.S. citizens as well as qualifying non-U.S. citizens. When applying, U.S. citizens will provide their social security number while non-citizens will submit their alien registration number. A list of eligible students is available on the Federal Student Aid website.

What is the deadline for submitting the FAFSA?

The application period is currently open and has been since Friday, October 1, 2021. The federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is 11:59 pm CT on Thursday, June 30, 2022. Corrections or updates to submissions are due at 11:59 pm CT on Saturday, September 10, 2022. It is advantageous to apply as early as possible since states and schools use FAFSA submissions to award priority grants, scholarships, and other financial aid. These state and school deadlines are often due earlier than the federal deadline, and many are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. For a comprehensive list of deadlines, visit the website for Federal Student Aid.

What if I don’t complete the FAFSA on time?

If you don’t complete the FAFSA by the submission deadline, you will be ineligible for federal student loans and grants for that academic year. You may also miss out on state and local funds that are awarded based on that year’s FAFSA application. While you will not receive aid for the year that you missed, you are eligible to apply the following year.

What do I need when filling out the FAFSA?

You should create a free FSA ID before you begin the application. During the application process, you will need either a social security number (U.S. citizens) or an alien registration number (if you are not a U.S. citizen). Dependent students will also need their parents’ social security numbers or alien registration numbers. In addition, you should have your driver’s license number (if you have one) and federal tax information for you, a spouse (if you have one), and your parents. Finally, you should have current information on available cash, savings, checking, and other investments as well as records for any untaxed income you may have received. More details can be found on the website for Federal Student Aid.

How do I fill out the FAFSA?

You can apply online, with a paper application, or through the mobile app (iOS or Android). To avoid delays, it’s recommended that you apply digitally. Explore the process on this page of the Federal Student Aid website and view this short video for an overview of the process.

How often do I need to complete the FAFSA?

You must submit a new FAFSA application every year with updated financial information. Your information will carry over from the previous years, so you do not need to start from scratch each year. You will only need to update any changes and provide new financial data. Submissions must be received by the deadline published on the website for Federal Student Aid.

What happens after the FAFSA is submitted?

You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR contains the information reported on your FAFSA and usually includes your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC determines your eligibility for federal student aid. The school(s) that you list on your FAFSA will get your SAR data.

What if my financial situation changes?

If your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, you may have your FAFSA form adjusted to potentially qualify for additional financial aid. This change also includes a change in family finances. Additional information is available on the Federal Student Aid website.

Can I afford a more expensive school?

Don’t automatically eliminate colleges with higher costs. Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is likely to remain the same whether you go to a low-cost or high-cost school. If your EFC is $5,000, at a college with a total cost of $8,000, you’d be eligible for up to $3,000 in financial aid. At a college with a total cost of $25,000, you’d be eligible for up to $20,000 in aid. In other words, your family would be asked to contribute the same amount (EFC) at both a low-cost and a high-cost school.

What are some good resources for learning more about FAFSA?

Beyond the AVID Open Access content in this collection, we recommend that you talk to your school counselor (if you currently have one) and visit the Federal Student Aid website for more information.

What do all these terms mean?

Application jargon can be hard to follow, but you can find quick and understandable definitions for key words on this one-pager and a more comprehensive glossary on the Federal Student Aid website.