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The FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA is an important step in funding your education. The FAFSA is a comprehensive application used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college. This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work-study, and federal student loans. It is also used by states to determine eligibility for their college aid programs, such as state grants. Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer. Finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application process. Always apply for need-based scholarships and grants. At the minimum, you will qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans.

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Each year, the government makes the new FAFSA available on October 1. In addition to federal deadlines, there are state deadlines and college deadlines that may have different deadlines, so be sure to check all three sources when applying for federal financial aid. You must complete a new FAFSA each year you attend school; fill out your FAFSA online so that you can make simple updates (renew) rather than redoing the entire application. The schools to which you are applying, or the one you are currently attending, will use the information you provide to determine the amount of financial aid you will receive. You should receive your financial aid package information by early spring, if not sooner.

The amount of federal financial aid you will receive is hard to predict, given that you can receive federal financial aid, federal- or state-sponsored grants, student loans, or a combination of all three. You can apply for a work-study program at your school, which is typically a paid part-time, on-campus job. The actual dollar amount you receive will vary based on a variety of factors.

If this is the first time you are completing a FAFSA, you should compare financial aid offers from all of the schools to which you have been accepted, and make a decision that best fits your financial situation. The financial aid package you receive is designed to bridge the gap between what college costs and what you and family can afford to contribute.

FAFSA Filing Options

  • Log in at fafsa.gov to apply online or
  • Fill out the form in the myStudentAid mobile app, available on the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android) or
  • Complete a 2020–21 FAFSA PDF or a 2019–20 FAFSA PDF (note: you must print out and mail the FAFSA PDF for processing) or
  • Request a print-out of the FAFSA PDF by calling us at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) or 334-523-2691 (TTY for the deaf or hard of hearing 1-800-730-8913); then fill out the form and mail it for processing.

FAFSA First Steps

  • For New Users: If you are starting the application for the first time on fafsa.gov, select "START HERE."
  • For Returning Users: If you filled out a FAFSA form last year and are renewing it, select "LOG IN" on the FAFSA home page, select " am the student," enter your FSA ID, and be sure to select "FAFSA RENEWAL" once given the option. Many of the (nonfinancial) questions will be prefilled for you. Just be sure to update any information that has changed since last year, including the financial questions.

Where To Get More Information

Not sure of what to do next? While filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), follow the directions on your screen and pay attention to the tips designed to help you along the way. If you need help filling out the FAFSA form, here are some free FAFSA Help tools that may address your unanswered questions

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Last Reviewed: February 2021