What is the FAFSA?
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is a tool used by the Office of Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, which is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation. The federal government uses this tool to calculate a student’s need for financial assistance. It takes into account multiple factors including income, debts, and assets. In order to receive aid such as federal grants, loans, or through a work-study, you must fill out and submit the FAFSA.
Why is the FAFSA important?
The FAFSA is important because it is the gateway for so many financial aid resources. Without completing it, you will not be eligible to receive need-based financial aid from the Federal government or from many colleges and universities.
Experts agree one of the most common reasons students don’t fill out the FAFSA is because they believe their parents make too much money, so they won’t qualify. This is a misconception, as “everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid, no matter their circumstances,” says Abigail Seldin, co-founder of College Abacus, a free college cost comparison tool.
She says most financial aid in the U.S. is awarded by universities rather than the government, and you usually can’t qualify for need-based or merit-based aid without a FAFSA on file. So, if you want to be considered for merit-based scholarships because of your athletic or academic achievements, you need to fill out the FAFSA, as most colleges require it to receive any aid.
How do you complete the FAFSA?
First, you want to create a FSA ID. This will allow you to electronically sign your FAFSA. If your parents are helping you fill out the FAFSA, they will need to create an ID as well. You will need to fill out the FAFSA each year that you are in school, as your financial situation can change. This helpful resource provides an overview of the FAFSA form and the application process with a walk-through of each application question.