FAFSA®: An Introduction
If you or someone you know is considering enrolling in college, now is the time to complete the financial aid application – the FAFSA. Students of all ages complete the FAFSA to be considered for financial aid from the federal government, and in most instances, additional money from the state in which they reside and the college they want to attend. That’s why the FAFSA is so important – it is the gateway to three potentially big sources of financial aid from federal, state, and college entities. If you don’t complete a FAFSA, you could be missing out on a lot of financial aid. The data you enter on your FAFSA is used to calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the number that’s used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid and is an indicator of your family’s financial strength to pay for college or career school.
FAFSA: Before you file
A wide array of resources is available to help you navigate the college financial aid process. Before you file your FAFSA, you might want to check out some of the most popular sites to get more information. For a comprehensive source of information on preparing, planning and attending college, take a look at StudentAid.gov. This U.S. Department of Education website is a one-stop source of information for students and their families and is designed to help you through every step of the financial aid process.
You can find general information about federal student aid and many of our publications, brochures, and fact sheets by going to StudentAid.gov/resources. Check the above website for the availability of our publications in English, Spanish, PDF, and Braille. Examples of these publications are listed below:
- Funding Your Education: The Guide to Federal Student Aid helps students and parents understand the financial aid process and directs them to resources.
- Financial Aid for Graduate and Professional Students helps graduate and professional degree students understand what types of federal student aid are available to them. It tells them how to apply for aid, what to consider when taking out a student loan, and where else they can look for graduate school funding.
- College Preparation Checklist explains how to prepare academically and financially for college through “to do” lists aimed at elementary and secondary school students and their parents, as well as adult students. This is the primary publication for any student considering college.
- My Future, My Way: First Steps Toward College is a workbook for middle and junior high school students that explains how to prepare academically and financially for college. The publication includes charts, checklists, and other activities to engage students as they gain more information about college preparation and costs.
You also may want to check out FAFSA4caster – an early eligibility estimator that can help you plan ahead when it comes to paying for college.
FAFSA: Ways to File
There are three ways to complete a FAFSA:
1) Online at fafsa.gov, (This is the quickest and easiest option!)
2) Access FAFSA to print out a FAFSA PDF
3) Call 1-800-4-FED-AID [1-800-433-3243] to request that a paper FAFSA be mailed to you.
In some cases, you might be able to apply directly through your school. You should check with the financial aid administrator at the school you are interested in attending to see if the school can assist you with your application.
If you need help understanding a specific question on the FAFSA, this guide . Online filers who need additional assistance with a particular question can use the online help or the “Help and Hints” box on the right-hand side of the screen for each question. Keep in mind that filing a FAFSA online is faster and will enable you to benefit from multiple checks to make sure your form is fully complete. (The paper versions, obviously, don’t have this benefit.)
FAFSA: Next Steps
Wondering what happens next? Here are 5 Things To Do After Filing Your FAFSA.
Adam Essex is a Management and Program Analyst at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.