- The Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, determines if you qualify for student aid.
- Even if you don’t think you are eligible for aid, it’s still worth filling out the FAFSA.
- You can file the FAFSA online, via a mobile app, or by mailing in a PDF application.
- Read more of Insider’s student loan coverage.
The Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form that determines what types of student aid you qualify for. You’ll need to provide various documents to determine how much financial aid you’ll receive.
How does the FAFSA work?
Most colleges and universities use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine your financial aid package, which includes aid from both the government and your school. You can list up to 10 schools to your FAFSA application, though you may add or remove schools after you submit the form initially.
You can fill out the FAFSA yourself or with the help of your parents. You never have to pay anyone to complete your FAFSA for you.
Who should complete the FAFSA?
If you plan to attend college for the 2021-22 or 2022-23 school years, it’s probably a good idea to fill out the FAFSA. Some schools won’t consider you for aid based on academic merit unless you complete the FAFSA.
Even if you don’t think you’re eligible for financial aid, there’s no way to know for sure unless you apply. Millions of dollars are left on the table each year by students who don’t complete the FAFSA, so it’s worth the time it takes to fill out the form.
When should you file the FAFSA?
The FAFSA for the 2021-22 school year is already open and is available until June 30, 2022. The FAFSA for the 2022-23 school year opens October 1, 2021, and is available until June 30, 2023. You should apply as early as possible for the best chance at qualifying for the most aid.
Individual colleges and states may have different deadlines, so be sure to check with your institution to make sure you don’t miss a deadline. You have to fill out the FAFSA for each academic year you want aid.
What types of aid are available?
There are three kinds of aid available through the federal government: grants, work-study, and loans. You don’t need to repay grants or work-study, but you’ll have to pay back loans.
- Grants: Often given based on exceptional financial need or if you belong to a designated group. Learn more about types of federal grants here.
- Work-study: Often given based on when you apply, your level of financial need, and the amount of money your school has available. Work-study is a type of financial aid that provides part-time positions for students with financial need to earn money for academic expenses.
- Loans: Subsidized loans are given based on financial need, while eligibility for unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans isn’t based on financial need. You should consider loans after grants and work-study aid. Interest rates on federal loans are fixed.
How do you file the FAFSA?
You can either fill out the form online, on the myStudentAid app (Android or iOS), or send in a PDF application by mail. If you’re applying online or via the mobile app, the process is easiest with a Federal Student Aid ID, which you is a username and password you can create for free and use to sign the FAFSA. The form should take about 30 minutes to complete.
Have the following information ready:
- Social security number or alien registration number
- Federal tax returns from 2019 for the 2021-22 school year, or from 2020 for the 2022-23 school year
- Records of untaxed income
- Cash, savings, checking, and investment account balances
After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll receive an email within a few days notifying you that the Department of Education has processed your FAFSA. Your information will then be sent to the schools you listed on your form. Then, you’ll get financial aid offers from the various schools you listed on your form once you’re accepted.
You should fill out the FAFSA, even if you don’t think you’ll get aid. The application is quick to complete and you’ll be able to see the options you have to pay for school.