This article is a detailed guide on FAFSA, its eligibility criteria, when to apply, easy step-by-step guide to fill the FAFSA, what happens after submission, debunking FAFSA myths and more.

TCM Staff

30th September 2020

For someone about to start college, it is an exciting phase. New place, new friends, and a whole lot of learning. But, the most important question remains - how will you fund these 4 years of college? Student loans, of course. But, student loan repayment is a taxing process. If reports are to be believed, Americans owe $1.5 trillion on student loans which are more than what they owe on their credit bills. 

But, there’s a respite for students with financial constraints. There are other ways to pay for college. If you fill out and submit the FAFSA  on time, you’ll be eligible for federal financial aid such as grants, scholarships, work-study programs, etc.

As per the report shared by National College Access Network, only 61% of high school grads successfully complete the FAFSA. The remaining 40% misses out on opportunities and probably college because of the lack of financial aid that they could’ve received through FAFSA. 

In this article, we shall discuss in detail about the FAFSA aiming to help you answer all your queries and file for FAFSA. 

Table of Contents:

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid which helps them achieve scholarships, grants, work-study programs, etc from the federal government, state government, and most colleges and universities. It is a form to be completed by prospective college students to determine their eligibility for student financial aid as well as Expected Financial Contribution. Based on the information provided by the applicant about their age, marital status, and other demographic information, FAFSA categorizes students into -

  • Dependent Students 

  • Independent Students

Dependent students will need to provide their parents’ income information while filling out the FAFSA. Independent students on the other hand do not have to provide this information but have to provide information on their spouse in case they are married. 

The Student Aid Report will be sent to the student to figure out the exact amount of financial aid awarded. The amount can be calculated by subtracting the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the Cost Of Attendance ( COA). 

Also Read: How to Apply for FAFSA as an Independent?

Eligibility Criteria

Basically, many students are eligible for one or the other form of financial aid, few students who are not eligible for need-based aid may still be eligible for an unsubsidized Stafford loan.

In addition, to meet the financial need, students must meet certain criteria in order to be eligible for such aid:

  • Be a U.S.citizen or an eligible non-citizen;

  • should have a valid Social Security Number;

  • Should have a high school diploma or GED test result;

  • Should have maintained a Satisfactory Academic Progress(SAP);

  • Should not have been found guilty of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while federal aid was being received.

are required to complete the FAFSA as a part of their high school graduation

When to Apply For FAFSA?

FAFSA provides financial aid on a first come first serve basis. The sooner you complete and submit the FAFSA, chances are you’ll receive a higher amount of financial aid. 

The lines for FAFSA submission opens on 1st October every year for courses for the following year. The deadline for FAFSA submission is 30th June of the same year the academic session ends. 

For example, if you are a student who wants to apply for FAFSA for the academic year 2020-2021, the lines for FAFSA are open from October 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021. 

It is however advisable that you complete the FAFSA as early as possible so that you have enough time for corrections in case. 

For more details, you can read: FAFSA deadlines

How to Fill FAFSA (easy step-by-step guide)

Filling the FAFSA can be taxing and complicated. This section is an easy step by step guide on how to fill up the FAFSA and gives you an approximation of how long does it take to fill the FAFSA:

  • Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID:

FSA ID is your Unique Identifier. It is an online process and takes just 10 minutes of your time to create an FSA ID. You’ll be provided with a username and password that will be needed throughout your course duration to complete the FAFSA every year. 

  • Gather All Information Beforehand:

Before filing for FAFSA, make sure you have all the requirements for FAFSA in hand as you’ll be asked to provide a lot of information. It is advised that you keep all your information and documents ready before you start the FAFSA application process. The most important information and documents are:

  • Your Social Security Number

  • Your family size and family income

  • Your personal income (in case any)

  • Your list of selected colleges that you are interested in applying

  • Provide Student Information

Once you have collected all your information and created an FSA ID, you can now start filling up the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov. The first step would be to choose the right form which would most likely be the upcoming school year. You have to then fill up the student demographic section which will have questions like your name, Age and Date of Birth. For school selection, you’ll be prompted to enter the school names of your interest so as to optimize your chances of getting maximum financial aid from each school. For the dependency section, you’ll be asked to fill up information that will determine whether you are financially dependent on your parents or not.

  • Provide Parent Information:

After you’ve completed filling the student section, you’ll be asked to provide information about your parents. Even if you do not stay with your parents, it is a must to fill up this section and provide parent demographics. You will be prompted to fill up their names, mailing addresses, and other information. 

In the case of students with divorced parents, the procedure may differ.

  • Provide Financial Information:

After you complete the parents’ information section, you will have to fill in the FInancial section. You’ll be prompted to fill in the financial information of your household i.e., both your income information and your parents’ income information. You can use the IRS data retrieval tool available on your online FAFSA to automatically pull out necessary data from tax returns.

  • Review FAFSA Application

Once you are done filling out all the information, don’t forget to review your FAFSA for any errors and mistakes. Make sure you double-check all the information you provided viz, financial, and the schools of your interest.

  • Sign and Submit the FAFSA 

Once you’re done reviewing your application, you have to electronically sign in your FAFSA and press the submit button.

How to Calculate Your Federal Student Aid Using FAFSA?

Your financial aid is determined by the financial aid office of the college or school you intend to / are enrolled in. The amount to be awarded is dependent on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), enrollment status, your Cost of Attendance, and the school you’ll be attending. 

Financial Aid = Cost of Attendance (COA) - Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The cost of attendance (COA) is the total amount it will cost you to attend school for the entire course period.

EFC is dependent on the information you provide on your FAFSA. It will take into account your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment and Social security), the family size, and the number of the family members who will be attending college and career in the same academic year.

What happens after submission of FAFSA

After you have submitted your FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within 3-5 working days in case of applicants who have applied through a valid email address. For those without a valid email address will receive their SAR within 7-10 working days via the postal address that you have provided in your form.

The colleges that you have applied for through FAFSA will have access a day after it is processed. However, the college authorities might not check your application immediately.

If your application is complete as per the department of education's requirement, an EFC will be displayed on your Student Aid Report. In case it is incomplete, EFC will not be displayed on your SAR. Instead, it will specify the issues that need to be rectified

How to make corrections in your FAFSA

In case, your FAFSA is incomplete, your SAR will specify the corrections to be made. 

You can make the corrections online at fafsa.gov :

You need to log in using your FSA ID, go to the “My FAFSA” page, make the necessary corrections, create a save key. Once the necessary corrections are made, review all your corrections, sign and submit your rectified form.

In case you want to make the corrections through an agent with the Federal Student Aid Information center, you must have the Data Release Number (DRN) with you. The DRN can be located on the confirmation page or confirmation email, on your electronic SAR on the FAFSA website or on the hardcopy of SAR, if you have received one.

Top FAFSA Myths - Debunked!

There are a lot of rumors that make rounds. Here, we shall debunk a few top myths about FAFSA

  • FAFSA is of no use to me. I can’t qualify for Federal Student Aid (FSA) because my parents make too much money. 

In order to be eligible for Federal Student Aid, remember there is no income cut off. Your financial aid is rather dependent on many other factors like your family size, your course duration, number of family members attending college in the same year, etc. When you submit your FAFSA, know that you’re automatically applying for state funds and possibly to your school of choice too. It is important to note that most schools do not consider applications without FAFSA. 

  • FAFSA is useless unless I have good grades throughout

Most federal student aid programs do not take a students' grade into consideration. It can only help a student get into a good school/ college and may help with merit-based scholarships. In order to qualify for FSA, you just have to maintain satisfactory academic progress. Every school has a different standard set for “satisfactory academic progress”. Most schools will have a certain GPA set to be maintained in order to qualify. 

  • I only need to fill and submit FAFSA once for my entire course duration

You have to fill and submit the FAFSA every year of your course duration. The financial situation in your household may change from year to year. For example, your siblings may enter college, a family member may lose their job, your parents may win a lottery ticket, etc. However, one good thing is you don’t have to start from scratch every year while filing the FAFSA. Some of your information will be carried over every year, just make sure they still hold true.

  • Filing the FAFSA is confusing and difficult

If you’re ready with all the documents and information, then filing for FAFSA isn’t an uphill task. Remember, FAFSA helps you reap benefits. So, being patient and completing the FAFSA form is always rewarding.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1.Do I have to fill out FAFSA if I pay out of pocket?

    NO, you don’t have to fill out FAFSA form until and unless you are in need of financial aid. 

  • 2.What happens if you don’t fill out FAFSA?

    You may miss out to receive federal aid to pay for your college.

  • 3.What is the maximum income to qualify for financial aid?

    It is good news for all of you that there is no income limit for the year 2020. Anyone can fill out FAFSA and get a student report without economic considerations.

  • 4.Should I fill out FAFSA if high income?

    Although you don’t need financial aid, you can fill out FAFSA since there are no income limits and restrictions to apply. It helps you determine your eligibility for grants, aid and also about subsidized and unsubsidized loans.

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