When it comes to applying to college, there are several rules you should follow. Always apply to a safety school, never assume you won’t get in somewhere and of course, apply for as many scholarships as possible. One rule that seems to fall by the wayside? Always fill out the FAFSA. This rule could result in a huge cost savings for the students who apply. But the ones who don’t? They’ll miss out. Read below to understand why the FAFSA is so important - and why everyone should complete it.
What is the FAFSA?
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the official government form that opens the door to federal student loans, grants and work-study. Plus, many states require that students fill out the FAFSA if they want to receive state-based grants and scholarships.
Individual schools may also require that students submit the FAFSA if they want to be considered for any internal awards. This is usually done so that students can maximize their federal and state financial aid before receiving any institutional scholarships.
In addition to those requiring the completion of the FAFSA in order to qualify for federal and state financial aid are smaller, private scholarships which have a financial component and require official demonstration of need. The completed FAFSA is often the method they will use to prove demonstrated financial need.
The Go Tigers! Scholarship for graduates of Idaho Falls High School, for example, requires all applicants to complete the FAFSA and submit their Student Aid Report from their FAFSA.
Another scholarship that requires a completed FAFSA is the Ermida Olivia Booth Scholarship, a scholarship for those who have lost a close relative to cancer and also requires an SAR report from the FAFSA to demonstrate requisite financial need.
Filling out the FAFSA is one of the most important parts of applying to and attending college. If you don’t complete it, you will not qualify for most financial aid. Without it, the only type of aid you can receive is private student loans, which can have high interest rates. You could also apply for scholarships that don’t require the FAFSA. In short, there’s no reason not to complete the FAFSA.
When you submit the FAFSA, you will be given a Student Aid Index (SAI) number. This number, which assesses your family’s financial resources and ability to pay for college, will then be compared against each school's annual Cost of Attendance (COA). The lower your SAI, the more financial aid you will qualify for. However, even if your SAI is at the highest possible level, you will still be eligible for federal student loans.
To qualify for federal financial aid, you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen. Eligible noncitizens can include those who have received asylum, have refugee status or are a permanent resident.
There is no age limit for the FAFSA. Whether you’re 18 or 80 years old, you are eligible to complete the FAFSA.
How to fill out the FAFSA®
Here are the steps you’ll have to follow when completing the FAFSA:
- Create an account on StudentAid.gov:
If you’re completing the FAFSA online, you’ll need to create an official FSA ID at StudentAid.gov. Once you have created the ID, log on to start filling out the FAFSA. If you’re the student, make sure to check the box marked “student”. If you’re the parent, click the box marked “Parent.”
- Start completing the information:
The first step of the FAFSA requires you to provide basic information, such as your Social Security Number, mailing address, contact information and more.
- Gather important documents:
The FAFSA will ask for documents, such as tax returns, bank statements and other financial documents. For example, you may be asked about how much money you have in investment accounts.
For your tax returns, you can use the IRS tax retrieval tool, which will automatically take information from the tax return and populate the FAFSA. This can save you some time.
My parents are high earners. Why should I fill out the FAFSA?
Every year, a huge portion of students don’t submit the FAFSA. A recent report found that about 25% of high school students did not complete the FAFSA. This makes them ineligible for all types of federal financial aid, including federal student loans, Pell grants and work-study. It also makes them ineligible for other, outside scholarships that require completion of the FAFSA in order to be eligible to apply.
No matter how much your parents earn, you should always fill out the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA can make you eligible for merit-based aid, not just need-based aid. So if you want a scholarship because of your GPA, test scores or other abilities, you’ll likely have to complete the FAFSA.
My parents are divorced. Who fills out the FAFSA?
If your parents are divorced or have never been married, then you must choose the right parent to provide their financial information. According to the Department of Education, the parent who contributed more financial support should complete the FAFSA.
If both parents contributed equally, then you have to pick the parent with the highest income or assets and have them complete the FAFSA.
Does it cost money to complete the FAFSA?
Absolutely not. While college applications often come with a fee, the FAFSA is free to fill out. If someone tries to tell you that there is a fee for completing the FAFSA, then it is likely a scam. Also, avoid any website that says they can get you more financial aid if you pay them a small fee.
Who can help me complete the FAFSA?
If you're having trouble filling out the FAFSA, you should reach out to the official hotline at 1-800-433-3243. You can also send an email through the official StudentAid.gov website.
There is also a live chat feature, available during regular business hours, you can utilize. It also has extended hours to 9 p.m. EST on Mondays and 8 p.m. EST on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
I’m a DACA recipient. Can I still submit the FAFSA?
In general, you need to be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen to fill out the FAFSA. However, if you are a DACA recipient and have a Social Security Number, you can complete the FAFSA.
You will not be eligible for federal financial aid, including student loans, Pell Grants or work-study. But, you may still qualify for state-based grants and scholarships, as well as third-party scholarships. Your parents will not need a Social Security Number to complete their part of the FAFSA.
However, only parents who have a Social Security Number can create a StudentAid ID. If they do not have a SSN, they will have to complete the paper version of the FAFSA and mail that in.
I didn’t fill out the FAFSA last year. Can I submit it now?
Even if you have never filled out the FAFSA before, you can still complete it now, as long as you meet general eligibility criteria.
Graduate and professional students can submit the FAFSA, even if they did not submit it while they were an undergrad. You will also not be required to submit previous financial information.
My parents won’t provide their financial information - can I still submit the FAFSA?
If you don't have a good relationship with your parents or if they don't understand why you want to complete the FAFSA, it can be hard to get their financial information.
Does submitting the FAFSA mean my parents are cosigning on my federal student loans?
One major reason that many parents don't want to submit the FAFSA is because they believe it means they will be liable for their child’s student loans.
While the FAFSA does ask for parental financial information, that is not the same as cosigning a student loan. In fact, federal student loans do not require any cosigners. If you fill out the FAFSA and your child takes out federal student loans, they will not become your responsibility or appear on your credit report.
The only time that a parent will be responsible for a student loan is if they take out a federal Parent PLUS loan. This is not done just by filling out the FAFSA; you will also have to complete a separate application. You can also cosign for a private student loan.
I’m a graduate or professional student. Should I still complete the FAFSA?
While graduate students may not qualify for as many grants or scholarships as undergraduate students, they should still fill out the FAFSA. Graduate students may still be eligible for federal student aid, but only if they complete the FAFSA. And graduate students can receive more federal student loans than undergraduate students.
I don’t want to take out federal student loans. Why should I submit the FAFSA?
Filling out the FAFSA does not mean you are automatically required to take out federal student loans. When you submit the FAFSA, the schools you apply to or attend will send you a financial aid letter detailing how much total financial aid you have received.
This form will show what financial aid you are eligible for. You can decline or accept this aid. Even if you are eligible for federal student loans, you are not required to accept them.
Does it matter when I submit the FAFSA?
In general, you should always submit the FAFSA as soon as possible to qualify for the maximum amount of financial aid. Many schools have scholarships that require FAFSA information, and these awards may have a limited number of spots. If you wait to complete the FAFSA, you may strike out.
Does the FAFSA ask about my GPA?
While the FAFSA will ask for financial, demographic and contact information, it will not ask about your GPA or standardized test scores. However, the school you apply to can decide what kind of financial aid you’ll receive, based on your GPA and other factors.
Also, to maintain your federal financial aid eligibility, you will need to have a 2.0 GPA or higher. If your GPA falls below that mark, then you may lose your financial aid. You also need to be making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which usually means taking enough classes that count toward your degree.
Should I wait until I’ve been accepted to college to fill out the FAFSA?
There is no reason to wait until you find out which schools you've been accepted to to fill out the FAFSA. The sooner you can submit the FAFSA, the sooner you’ll hear about your financial aid package. Plus, some scholarships may require the FAFSA to apply.
In general, when it comes to applying for college, try to submit everything sooner rather than later.
Do I have to submit the FAFSA more than once?
You should submit the FAFSA every year that you want to receive financial aid, not just for your first year. The FAFSA is only good for the year that it is submitted; the results will not carry over to future years. And FAFSA results can vary drastically, even from year to year.
For example, if your parents get divorced, you may qualify for more financial aid, especially if you primarily live with the parent who makes less money.
What is the official FAFSA deadline?
There is not one universal FAFSA deadline. There is an official deadline for the federal government, but there are also state and school-specific financial aid deadlines. These two deadlines are usually earlier than the federal FAFSA deadline. If you miss your school’s financial aid deadline, then you may not qualify for financial aid. The state deadline is for state-based grants and scholarships, which are usually given if you’re attending a school in-state.
State and school financial aid deadlines often coincide, especially for public universities. For example, both Indiana University and the state of Indiana have a FAFSA deadline of April 15th annually.
I made a mistake on my FAFSA. How can I correct it?
The FAFSA form has a spot where you can correct mistakes. First, log into your FSA account and choose whether you’re logging on as the student or parent. On the “My FAFSA” section, click on the “Make Corrections” link. Then, update the necessary information.
If you want to change a mistake made on a paper FAFSA, you’ll have to mail in the correction. It’s much faster to fix an error online, which is another reason to submit your FAFSA electronically instead of via snail mail.