The FAFSA is a form used to determine eligibility for financial aid. If you’d like to receive help paying for college, it all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.
Financial aid offices at colleges and universities — from community colleges to Ivy League institutions — use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for financial aid, including student loans, grants, scholarships, and federal work-study programs.
Even if you think you make too much money for financial aid, you should still take the time to complete the FAFSA.
Where Do I Get a FAFSA Form?
You can complete the FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov, the official site administered by the U.S. Department of Education, and it’s always free. If you find yourself on a copycat site or a site offering assistance for a fee, stay away!
Need help filling it out? The FAFSA sites have (free) guidance and information available.
Who Should Use the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) —an online form that is used to determine eligibility for federal student aid and most scholarships—is a must-complete application for any and all students who want to pay for college using financial aid.
Even if the FAFSA makes you feel that you make too much to qualify for financial aid, you should still fill out the form. The FAFSA considers many factors in determining how much aid students can receive — more than just family income and assets.
As long as you meet the basic eligibility requirements (high school diploma or equivalent, satisfactory academic progress, etc.), your qualifications will be evaluated and you may be eligible to receive financial aid.
What Documents Do I Need to File the FAFSA?
To apply for federal financial aid, you’ll need to create a Federal Student Aid ID. You can get one by visiting fsa.gov/fafsa and clicking “Get a FSA ID.”
Apply for your own FSA ID–you will not be able to apply if you are assigned someone else’s FSA ID. Next, locate the school codes for each institution where you plan to apply.
Use the Federal School Code Search tool to hunt down any school’s code.
If dependent, you must list your Social Security number and your parents’ numbers. You must also list your driver’s license number if you have one and the number assigned to you by the Department of Homeland Security if you are not a U.S. citizen.
The financial information (income and assets) of the student, the student’s spouse, and the student’s parents, if applicable, will be used to determine your eligibility for federal aid.
Filling Out the FAFSA
After gathering the necessary info, students complete the FAFSA application.
Log in to the FAFSA site and fill out the form using your FSA ID. Your personal details will be entered first (Social Security Number and citizenship status), followed by a series of questions determining student dependency status.
The next section will ask for info about you (the parents) including income, assets, and tax forms. You may be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to import previous tax returns.
While the FAFSA may seem like a lot of work, you’ll be able to complete it in sections and save it so that you can go back to it when needed. You’ll have time to gather paperwork, as well.
When Do I Need to Complete the FAFSA?
Federal Student Aid deadlines are typically the same each year. And, while you will want to carefully plan your application timeline and apply early, you should also be aware that most colleges have their own financial aid deadlines.
The U.S. Department of Education makes the forms available around October of the previous academic year with a federal deadline in the middle of the following June.
For example, for the 2020-21 academic year, the FAFSA forms were made available on October 1, 2019, with a federal deadline of midnight CST on June 30, 2020.
What Types of Aid Are Offered Through the FAFSA?
By filling out the FAFSA form, students can determine the amount of need-based aid they will be eligible for and learn the steps needed to secure that aid.
The FAFSA form can be used to secure financial assistance through federal student loans, federal grants, scholarships, and federal work-study programs.
Grants are a major source of funding for students. They are free money, meaning that you do not need to repay them. Grants are most often need-based and will be based on your FAFSA results.
One way to access scholarship money is through your school. These awards are free money that need not be repaid.
Often these awards are merit-based, meaning they are based on outstanding grades, athletics, or some other achievement.
You may have to maintain satisfactory academic progress or perform well in order to keep receiving the financial award. There are many ways to access scholarship money.
Some financial aid packages include a work-study option, meaning you will be expected to pay for your education by working at a campus job.
Contact your financial aid or employment office for more information on their process.
Federal Student Loans
To get financial aid, use the following order of precedence: scholarships and grants (from free money) before taking out a loan (borrowing money).
If you need to take out a loan to cover the cost of attendance, contact your financial aid office if you have questions or concerns.
If you feel as though you haven’t received enough money to cover the cost of attendance, you can appeal your financial aid package.
How Long Does it Take to Get the FAFSA money?
You should have notified the schools you applied to that you want to be considered for financial aid, completed and submitted any additional school-specific requirements and submitted your application for need-based financial aid.
After submitting the FAFSA, some schools may take up to three months to confirm your application and send an award letter.
Once you receive the award letter, you will have to accept or deny the offered aid before the financial aid deadlines.
Does FAFSA cover summer classes?
If you’ve completed a FAFSA to become eligible for aid for the fall or spring semester, that FAFSA generally should cover all the courses you take over the academic year — including any summer classes.
Your summer courses may be classified as part of the 2021-2022 academic year or 2021-2023 academic year, depending on how your school classifies them; ask your school’s financial aid office what FAFSA is needed for each summer program.
Does your school allow financial aid for summer classes?
When looking for grants to pay for summer classes, it’s important to know how it could impact your financial aid.
Although the FAFSA helps determine eligibility for federal aid, you should also ask about school policies, since not all schools allow students to receive
financial aid for summer classes.
If your school does permit you to obtain financial aid for a summer program, you will typically have to meet standard requirements for satisfactory academic progress.
These are the same standards that apply during the remainder of the school year, which means, you typically will be required to:
- Complete a certain number of course credit hours to earn a degree.
- Take courses that contribute to your degree requirements
- Students must earn a certain minimum grade-point average to be eligible to continue taking classes.
Have you exhausted your eligibility for federal financial aid?
Although the FAFSA can count toward your summer classes and help you become eligible for financial aid, you should be aware that there are Federal Student Loan limits for each academic year.
If you do use your allotted funds during the fall and spring semesters, then you won’t have money left over to get these types of loans for your summer semester.
FAQs about FAFSA
Is FAFSA every semester?
The good news is that you only have to apply for FAFSA once each year. The award you receive is good for an entire academic year, which consists of the fall semester, the spring semester, and the summer semester (in that order). You need to reapply every school year.
What age does FAFSA stop?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not have an age limit. You can receive federal student aid even if you are in your 80s.
Applicants do need to be at least 13 years old to obtain an FSA ID or to submit the FAFSA online.
Is FAFSA good for a year?
FAFSA is generally good for one full academic year, beginning in the fall. However, it’s important to check when the FAFSA is due because deadlines can change.
Does FAFSA look into bank accounts?
FAFSA doesn’t check anything, because it’s a form. However, the form does require you to complete some information about your assets, including checking and savings accounts.
Is FAFSA a Pell Grant?
The Pell Grant is the largest federal grant program offered to undergraduates and is designed to assist students from low-income households. To qualify for a Pell Grant, a student must demonstrate financial need through the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) form.
Do you pay back FAFSA?
Students have to pay back financial aid if it is in the form of a loan, but they do not have to pay back grants, scholarships, or money awarded through a work-study program. Students eligible for grants or scholarships should exhaust those options before taking out any loans.
Scholarships can allow you to lessen your financial burden, but they are generally offered for students with certain characteristics or achievements, like athletic ability or academic excellence.
Private educational organizations also offer scholarships, but they are often difficult to get and award smaller sums of money.
You can look into an educational employer that offers work-study opportunities, a program that pays you to work campus jobs while you go to school.