FAFSA Explained

Even if you are only taking a few courses as part of your career education, the cost of college classes can be very expensive. The majority of students are unable to attend college classes without some form of financial assistance.

If you have ever looked into receiving financial assistance for attending school, you most likely have heard of FAFSA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. However, this title is slightly misleading. While federal programs use FAFSA to determine eligibility, practically every grant and scholarship also uses FAFSA.

FAFSA does not provide you with any type of funding. FAFSA is only an application. However, it is an application that is universally recognized. Many students receive financial assistance from multiple sources. It would be very difficult if each form of financial assistance used a different application process. With FAFSA, the process is simplified, and it saves you a great deal of time since you only have to worry about completing your FAFSA application. In addition, you can easily determine your eligibility for multiple sources of financial aid, since they are all based around filling out the FAFSA application. As of writing, FAFSA provides over $150 billion dollars in education funding to roughly 15 million college students each year.

What type of financial aid is available through FAFSA?

There are multiple forms of financial aid available to students. While there are numerous programs, financial aid is generally available through one of three categories. These categories are:

  • Grants.
  • Student loans.
  • Scholarships.

Some people may use these terms interchangeably by mistake, but there are many differences between the three categories. Grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant, are awarded based on a needs basis. These grants go to students who receive minimal financial support and would not be able to attend college without some form of financial assistance. Scholarships are provided based on educational merit. In order to qualify for a scholarship, you must have either taken advanced courses or achieved exceptional grades. Neither scholarships nor grants need to be repaid.

Student loans are very different. If you receive money from a loan, whether it is from the federal government or a private lender, you are required to pay the loan back with interest. How much interest is determined by the type of loan and how much you borrow. While all of these categories are very different, eligibility can be determined for each by filling out one FAFSA application.

Who is eligible for FAFSA?

FAFSA covers so many different forms of financial aid. However, the basic FAFSA eligibility requirements are very simple. The FAFSA eligibility requirements include the following:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
  • You must provide a valid Social Security Member.
  • If required, you must be registered with Selective Service.
  • You must have completed your high school education, finished an approved homeschool course or have your General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
  • You must maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or your career school.

It is important to note that these are only the requirements for filling out a FAFSA. The actual grants, scholarships and loans will all have their own eligibility requirements. FAFSA will tell you which programs you are eligible for and make it easy for these financial providers to appraise your financial and educational information to determine whether you are eligible for a particular type of financial assistance.

Where can you submit your FAFSA?

The majority of students prefer to complete a FAFSA online. If you wish to file online, you are required to make an FSA ID. Your ID effectively acts as an electronic signature. Applying online is very convenient, since it allows you to easily store information on your application. When you reapply for financial aid in future years, you can access your existing application instead of creating a brand new application. In addition, high school students can create an FSA ID well before they apply for college. Having an online account also makes it much easier to check the status of your application.

If you do not wish to apply online, you can request a paper application to send through the mail. No matter which option you choose, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) after the application clears. Your SAR contains all the basic information about the financial aid programs for which you are eligible. Online applicants typically receive their SAR within three to five days, while applicants submitting through the mail must wait two to three weeks.

What information is required by FAFSA?

One of the reasons FAFSA is so effective is that it collects all of the necessary information required to determine your eligibility for financial assistance. When you are getting ready to submit an application, you should have the following documents on hand for both yourself and your family members if they are financially supporting you:

  • Identification.
  • Tax records.
  • Income records.
  • Expense records.
  • Debt records.

The actual application is divided into separate sections for students and parents.

FAFSA Deadlines

One of the tricky parts about using FAFSA has to do with the deadlines. You can begin completing FAFSA as early as you want. Many students are encouraged to make a FAFSA account while they are still in high school. These students will not actually submit their applications until much later, but they can complete basic information regarding their education early on. Currently, you can officially submit your application starting on October 1st of the fall before you plan to attend college. The official federal deadline for FAFSA extends until June 30th of the year you intend to start college.

Many grants and scholarships will try to work around the FAFSA deadlines. However, certain grants and scholarships use their own deadlines, even though eligibility is determined by FAFSA. This is another reason why so many students try to begin their FAFSA application as early as possible. In addition, some schools may place limits on when you can officially file for financial assistance. There are also several grants and scholarships that provide financial assistance on a first come, first served basis. The longer you wait to complete your application, the greater your chances are of missing a deadline or no longer becoming eligible for a specific program.

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