Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Despite the growing need for financial aid, many students entering college are not familiar with the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA allows students to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study awards. In addition, many non-federal forms of financial aid may rely on FAFSA data to determine financial need and award packages.

The majority of higher education students make use of financial aid resources. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 72.3% of 2015-2016 undergraduate students received some form of financial assistance, largely through the FAFSA process. Students should note, however, that financial aid earnings may prove taxable under the right circumstances. For this reason, learners should check with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for regulations on financial aid funds.

This guide describes the FAFSA application process, including the documents students need to submit and available awards for college students.

The FAFSA for Social Work Students


Although all students should fill out the FAFSA, the application is especially critical for social work students. Social work positions do not always pay high salaries, so students should apply for as many grants and scholarships as possible. By completing the FAFSA, social work students can receive work-study positions at local nonprofits, on-campus organizations, and social work agencies. Students can also obtain general financial aid such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program allows public service professionals, including social workers, to eliminate their student loans after a period of employment.

FAFSA Funding

The FAFSA calculates your eligibility for federal aid opportunities, including grants, loans, and work-study. Degree candidates must renew the FAFSA every year to continue to obtain aid. Students may lose financial aid if their grades drop or enrollment status changes, though specifics vary by award and institution. Students may apply financial aid toward educational expenses such as tuition, textbooks, and fees.

Grants assist students with financial need. These awards give students free money to use for tuition and other expenses. They may also incentivize individuals to enter high-demand occupations. For instance, students may receive awards such as the Pell Grant or Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. However, if recipients do not fulfill requirements, they must repay the full grant amount. Often, students receive grants based on school costs, income, and expected family contribution.

Like grants, scholarships provide students with free funding. However, scholarships usually reward students based on merit instead of financial need. The federal government provides few scholarships, but many scholarship applications ask for FAFSA information.

By taking out loans, students agree to repay the full amount with interest. Federal loans hold a number of advantages over private loans. For instance, federal loans do not require students to make payments while they attend school. Income-based repayment plans can also ease the repayment process. The federal government may also forgive loans for certain individuals. Loan options include the Federal Perkins Loan and direct subsidized loans.

Work-study functions similarly to a regular job. Students work for an on-campus organization, nonprofit, or local agency. Workers receive payments on a bi-weekly basis throughout the semester. Learners may participate in either federal or institutional work-study programs.

FAFSA Eligibility Requirements

To receive federal aid, applicants should earn a high school diploma or GED and enroll in an accredited college program. Learners who have not yet received acceptance into a college may apply for FAFSA early, but will not receive aid until the college issues an admission letter. Applicants must also possess a valid Social Security number or hold standing as an eligible noncitizen. Male citizens must register with the Selective Service.

Previous financial aid recipients must continue to meet their school's standards for acceptable academic progress. Students in default for prior aid may not obtain further assistance.

How to Complete the FAFSA

When Should You Submit the FAFSA?


Students may fill out the FAFSA as early as October 1. Completing the application early presents several benefits. For instance, schools, states, and private organizations often offer financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Early applicants hold a better chance at receiving aid than students who wait until the last minute. Additionally, most states require students to complete the FAFSA by a certain date in order to receive state funding.

However, a few students may benefit from waiting to submit the FAFSA until their financial considerations show the most need. For instance, students may not alter stock market details on the FAFSA, regardless of any fluctuation that occurs after submitting the form. Try to submit the form when your assets are worth less.

What Information Do You Need to Fill Out the FAFSA?


To fill out the FAFSA, applicants should gather their Social Security number, alien registration number, previous year's tax return, information on untaxed income and assets, and driver's license number. Dependent students also need related information for parents. Factors such as age, military status, and marital status impact whether a student holds dependent or independent status. Applicants should also choose as many as 10 schools to receive award information. The FAFSA calls for the school's federal code, but students can search the FAFSA website for this number.

All learners also need an FSA ID, or a username and password to access certain U.S. Department of Education websites. Parents should create an individual username and password to view their child's FAFSA information.

Filling Out Your FAFSA


Students can fill out the FAFSA in several ways. The online form allows learners to begin a new form or update an older version. The online tool also automatically fills in information using features such as the IRS data retrieval tool.

Learners may also fill out the PDF version or mail in a paper version of the FAFSA. The PDF option is quicker than the paper option since applicants do not need to wait to receive the form. Learners can download the PDF version from the FAFSA website. Learners who experience discomfort with technology may prefer the paper option.

Applicants need to answer questions regarding student status, marital status, household size, and income. Dependent candidates also supply their parents' information, including address and financial data. Applicants should indicate if they are interested in work-study options. After answering all necessary questions, learners can electronically sign and submit the form. The signature acts as an declaration that recipients will use financial aid exclusively for educational expenses. Borrowers also certify that all information is true and accurate.

Tips for Filling Out Your FAFSA


  • Apply Online: The online application takes the least amount of time to process. The electronic FAFSA also retains information from previous years, making it easy for students to renew their information.
  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool: This option automatically fills in information from related income tax documents. Students who file taxes prior to filling out the FAFSA should use this tool to speed up the process and lessen the chances of account verification.
  • List Your Potential Schools in a Particular Order: This detail may not matter for federal aid, but certain states request that learners prioritize schools on the FAFSA. For instance, Connecticut insists applicants should list a state-based college or university in the first or second position on their school list.
  • Fill Out Every Field of the Form: All responses on the FAFSA count in calculating financial aid, so leaving fields without answers can negatively sway results. Learners should fill out every aspect of the form, even if answers only involve zeroes. You may skip inapplicable questions if instructed to do so.
  • Include an Explanatory Letter for Special Circumstances: Special circumstances may complicate a student's or family's capacity to handle college expenses. Students may present dilemmas, such as illness or job loss, in a letter for FAFSA consideration.

Submitting the FAFSA

How Do You Submit Your FAFSA?


After filling out all fields, you will encounter a final signature page. You must sign by either printing a copy or using your electronic FSA ID. Applicants can also submit a rough draft of the FAFSA, without a signature included, in order to receive a student aid report (SAR). However, students must still submit the final signature in order to receive aid. After the signature page, the FAFSA will generate a confirmation of submission.

Student Aid Report


The SAR includes general information that the student provided in the FAFSA. The SAR also lists each student's expected family contribution. Applicants typically receive the SAR within three weeks of submitting the FAFSA. Schools receive an institutional student information record with similar information.

Degree candidates should review the SAR for accuracy since this information can impact financial aid decisions. Students who notice an error can update the FAFSA with accurate information. Applicants selected for verification must supply requested documents to the school within the given time frame.

How and When Do You Get Your FAFSA Funding?


At this point, students should receive their school's financial aid offer, including federal grants, loans, and institutional awards. Students should review each element of the aid package before accepting the offer. Students who only want a certain portion of a student loan may write down the accepted amount before signing the document. For loans, candidates may need perform further tasks, such as signing a contract or promissory note. Students may also have to complete entrance counseling before receiving their loan amount.

FAFSA FAQs


What's the Deadline for Filing the FAFSA?


Students can fill out the FAFSA from October 1 until June 1. However, many states and schools set much earlier deadlines. FAFSA corrections are due in September.


Do You Need Good Grades to Receive FAFSA Funding?


Learners must maintain certain standards of academic achievement to receive financial aid. However, these standards vary by school. Candidates should check with their college or university for grade and credit load requirements.


Is There an Age Limit for FAFSA Aid Recipients?


There is no age limit for financial aid candidates. Learners under 24 may qualify as dependents under their parents.


Can Your Household Income Automatically Disqualify You from FAFSA Funding?


No maximum income exists for financial aid applicants. The FAFSA also factors in other details, such as household size and exceptional circumstances.


Do Your Parents Have to Be U.S. Citizens for You to Be Eligible for FAFSA Aid?


You and your parents do not necessarily need U.S. citizenship to file the FAFSA. Eligible noncitizens may qualify for financial assistance with the proper documentation.


How Long Does It Take to Fill Out the FAFSA?


Students can complete the FAFSA in less than hour, with time allotted for reading the finished document and confirmation page.


Can You File Your FAFSA Before You've Applied to Any Schools?


Candidates can submit a FAFSA prior to applying to schools, but must provide the name of a school within the application. The Department of Education only disburses funds after enrollment.


Where Can You Find More Information About the FAFSA?


Students can explore the Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, and FinAid websites for general financial aid information. For specific details, consult your school's financial aid office.


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