Resources › For Students and Parents What is the FAFSA? Learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Share Flipboard Email Print Learn about the FAFSA. Peter Glass / Getty Images For Students and Parents College Admissions College Financial Aid College Admissions Process College Profiles College Rankings Choosing A College Application Tips Essay Samples & Tips Testing Graphs Extracurricular Activities Advanced Placement Homework Help Private School Test Prep College Life Graduate School Business School Law School Distance Learning View More By Allen Grove College Admissions Expert Ph.D., English, University of Pennsylvania M.A., English, University of Pennsylvania B.S., Materials Science & Engineering and Literature, MIT Dr. Allen Grove is an Alfred University English professor and a college admissions expert with 20 years of experience helping students transition to college. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Allen Grove Updated October 05, 2017 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 studentInformation about the student’s dependency statusInformation about the student’s parentsInformation about the student’s financesA 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?