What is the FAFSA?

Learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid

Signs at a college reading, Financial Aid and Admissions
Learn about the FAFSA. Peter Glass / Getty Images

If you want financial aid, you'll need to fill out the FAFSA.

The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Anyone who wants financial aid for college will need to fill out the FAFSA. The application is used to determine the dollar amount you or your family will be expected to contribute towards college. All federal grant and loan awards are determined by the FAFSA, and nearly all colleges use the FAFSA as the basis for their own financial aid awards.

The FAFSA is managed by the Office of Federal Student Aid, part of the Department of Higher Education. The Office of Federal Student Aid processes roughly 14 million financial aid applications a year and disburses about $80 billion in financial aid.

The FAFSA application should take about one hour to fill out, but this is only if you have all the necessary documents at hand before you begin. Some applicants get frustrated with the application process because they do not have ready access to all necessary tax forms and bank statements, so be sure to plan ahead before you sit down to complete your FAFSA.

The FAFSA requires information in five categories:

  • Information about the student
  • Information about the student’s dependency status
  • Information about the student’s parents
  • Information about the student’s finances
  • A list of the schools that should receive the results of the FAFSA

Students can fill out the FAFSA online at the FAFSA website, or they can apply through the mail with a paper form.

The Office of Federal Student Aid strongly recommends the online application because it conducts immediate error checking, and it tends to speed up the application process by a few weeks. Students applying online can save their work and return to an application at a later date.

Again, any financial aid award begins with the FAFSA, so be sure to complete the form before the deadlines for the schools to which you’ve applied.

Realize that most state deadlines are much earlier than the June 30th federal deadline. Read more about the timing of your FAFSA application here: When Should You Submit the FAFSA?

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Grove, Allen. "What is the FAFSA?" ThoughtCo, Oct. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-fafsa-788493. Grove, Allen. (2017, October 5). What is the FAFSA? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-fafsa-788493 Grove, Allen. "What is the FAFSA?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-fafsa-788493 (accessed January 21, 2018).