Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) Overview
What Is the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA)?
The Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is the primary form you must complete
to be considered for most types of student aid. The application is so complex that
it asks more income and asset questions than the federal income tax form! The first
step in starting the student aid process is to submit the FAFSA application.
Applying for college and student aid means filling out a lot of forms! Some colleges
and states require that you complete additional aid applications, so check with
your prospective college financial aid office for state- or college-specific requirements.
How Does FAFSA Work?
The U.S. Department of Education doesn't tell you how much aid you will receive.
Instead, it tells you how much the federal government expects your family to contribute
toward paying for your college expenses. The actual colleges will send you an award
letter that will provide details on the type and amount of grants, scholarships,
work-study, and loans that you'll receive. Your award letter will help you understand
your true out-of-pocket expenses. Unfortunately, colleges don't send out these letters
until a few months before the academic year starts, which makes it really hard to
evaluate the affordability of each college.
When you apply to a college, the financial aid department subtracts your
family contribution (EFC)
from the college's published
cost of attendance (COA)
to determine your financial need. To calculate your EFC, the government looks at
prior-year income, current assets, and other factors like your household size.
Applications may be submitted as early as January 1st prior to the academic year
in which you will attend college. If you wish to go to college in the fall of 2012,
be sure to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1, 2012. Competition
for student aid is fierce. Many student aid programs are awarded on a first-come,
first-served basis. Make sure to take time to answer every question as accurately
as possible, and have someone double-check your answers. Mistakes can hurt you by
lowering your aid award.
While state aid programs have different deadlines, most of them fall before April
15 of any given year. It's best to complete your income taxes early or use estimates
on your FAFSA so your request is considered as soon as possible. If you use estimates,
you can go back and adjust income numbers on your FAFSA once taxes have been filed,
but at least you've established your place in the line for aid.
Signing Your FAFSA
To complete your FAFSA and move to the next step in the student aid process, you
must officially sign the application. Just like many of the other applications you've
completed, signatures are required as a confirmation that you are, indeed, the person
who filled out the form and that you are providing the information to the best of
your knowledge. For step-by-step instructions on signing your FAFSA,
Making Changes to Your FAFSA
There are three ways to make changes to your FAFSA. You can make updates online,
by telephone, or on your printed Student Aid Report (SAR). This process can be kind
of tricky, so for step-by-step instructions on making changes to your FAFSA,