What Is FAFSA, and Why Do I Need to Complete It?

Gain an understanding of student financial aid and the process for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Grades 9-12 5 min Resource by:
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For many students, postsecondary school is financially out of reach without federal, state, and school financial aid packages. Fortunately, applying for this aid is quick, easy, and free. To be eligible for federal financial aid (and many state- and school-sponsored programs, as well), you must complete the FAFSA process.

So what is the FAFSA, and how does someone apply? FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Students must complete this application form to initiate the federal financial aid eligibility process. It can be completed online (which is recommended) or submitted through the mail. During the online application process, students create an account, provide personal information, indicate the schools they may wish to attend, and provide information about their finances. Once submitted, their application is copied to each school they have listed on the form. These schools use this information to send out individualized award letters to each applicant. The letters tell potential students how much aid they are eligible to receive and in what form these funds are available (e.g., grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study). This is valuable information in helping to determine which schools are affordable.

Financial aid repayment information

As students review these forms, it’s important that they pay attention to the sources of money in the aid package. Some funds will not need to be paid back, like grants and scholarships. These are generally the most desirable forms of aid. The next most desirable financial aid source is usually a work-study, where students work on campus to earn money that they can apply to college expenses. The third type involves money that must be paid back, like student loans. The letters and reports that students receive will break it all down, so each individual can make an informed decision.

It’s also important to reapply for FAFSA each year, as applications do not roll over from one year to the next. The deadline for 2022 is 11:59 pm CT on Thursday, June 30, but it’s a good idea to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible to maximize your eligibility for state- and school-specific awards that are often triggered by the FAFSA application. FAFSA applications may first be submitted beginning on October 1 for the following school year.

FAFSA applications are due June 30.

To complete the FAFSA process, you must first set up an FSA ID, as you will use this ID to initiate the FAFSA process. If you are a dependent student, one of your parents will also need to do this. You can set this up during the FAFSA application process, as well, but completing it ahead of time speeds up the process. Once you have your FSA ID, complete the FAFSA application here. Follow the prompts to set up an account and complete the process. The site will guide you through a series of steps. The Federal Student Aid website offers great information to get you started, if you’d like to know more before beginning the application. You will find a help page and this informative video overview.