Everything You Need to Know About the FAFSA

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA, is a valuable resource for both current and soon-to-be college students. Filling out this form is an important part of the college process, even if you don’t think you will qualify for federal aid. Here’s everything you need to know about the FAFSA!

What is the FAFSA? The FAFSA is an application form that is used to determine a student’s eligibility for financial assistance. This doesn’t just include loans, but also work-study programs and grants. Even if you don’t think you will qualify for federal aid, you should still fill out the FAFSA as individual states use it to determine local and college-sponsored aid.

What information is required? Students are required to answer questions regarding their current income. If the student is a dependent, their parents’ income will also need to be reported. Other information, like the number of students in the household, is also factored in. Ultimately, this information will be used to calculate a student’s Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, which is what determines a student’s eligibility. In general, the lower the EFC, the more aid the student will qualify for. More details about what information is required can be found on the 2019-2020 FAFSA Web Worksheet.

How do I fill out the FAFSA? The FAFSA used to be a paper form that was physically distributed to high schools. Today, the easiest and most recommended way to fill out the FAFSA is online. By using the official FAFSA.gov website, you can easily register an account to save your progress on the application and return to it later. Since college students are recommended to fill out the FAFSA each year they are attending, having your basic information already filled saves a lot of time. There’s even a convenient “IRS Data Retrieval Tool” that can be used to automatically fill in financial information based on the previous year’s tax return records. Of course, if you prefer a paper application, they are still available to print from the official FAFSA website.

When should I start? You need to fill out the FAFSA the year before you plan on attending college. So for instance, if your student will be starting college in September of 2020, you would need to begin the 2020-2021 FAFSA well in advance. The FAFSA itself is released on October 1st each year – so in this case, a student could essentially begin filling out this form (for 2020-2021) on October 1st, 2019.

When is it due? The deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th. To expand on the example above, this means that a student wanting to attend college from 2020-2021 would have between October 1st, 2019 – June 30th, 2021 to submit the application. That being said, we highly recommend not waiting until the deadline for one very important reason. As we mentioned earlier, state scholarships and aid are also disbursed based on FAFSA eligibility, and they are often distributed on a “first come, first serve” basis. Furthermore, the deadline for your individual state is very likely earlier than June 30th. In many states, this date is months before the federal deadline – in California, for instance, the FAFSA documents must be filed by early March to qualify for state aid. Although the 2020-2021 FAFSA won’t be released until October 1st, you can get a pretty good idea of the state deadlines by looking at last year’s due dates.

For more information, check out the FAFSA’s official help page on filling out the application!

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