To apply for student financial aid from the federal government, including the Pell Grant, Perkins Loan, Stafford Loan and work-study, you will need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There is no charge for submitting this form. The FAFSA is also required by all state and many school student assistance programs.You should apply for aid every year, even if you think you don't qualify. There are many factors affecting eligibility for financial aid. For example, a student who didn't qualify one year might become eligible during the next year when a brother or sister enrolls in college. A change in family financial circumstances might affect your eligibility for student aid.
Some private colleges and universities will require one or more supplemental forms to obtain information not included on the FAFSA. They may have their own forms or they may ask you to complete the College Board's CSS PROFILE form.
Watch the Five-Minute FAFSA Video for a quick introduction to the FAFSA.
|Before you begin, you should review important information about the deadlines (including the strange business about not submitting the FAFSA form before January 1) and gather together all the documents you'll need to complete the form. The IRS Form/FAFSA Map will show you which lines of your income tax returns correspond to each line of the FAFSA.|
Then read our sections relating to the FAFSA and/or CSS PROFILE forms. You should also read our section on Help Completing the FAFSA and our list of Common Errors on Financial Aid Applications. You will find our Title IV School Code Database helpful, since it contains the magic numbers you'll need to identify the schools to which you are applying. We also review what happens after you submit the FAFSA, in the section about the Student Aid Report (SAR) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
If you're wondering whether you count as a dependent or independent student for financial aid purposes, see FinAid's dependency status form.You will later receive financial aid award letters from the colleges, listing the amount and types of financial aid in your financial aid package. These award letters can sometimes be difficult to decode. Most financial aid award letters for incoming students arrive in late March or early April.
If you want to get an early estimate of what the government thinks you can afford to pay for your education, try FinAid's Financial Aid Estimation Form. It lets you play what-if games, to give you an idea how changes in income and assets affect the expected family contribution. FinAid also has a variety of other EFC calculators such as the QuickEFC calculator which provides an approximation of the EFC with one tenth the questions.