This information is subject to change and does not constitute legal or financial advice; it’s educational in nature and may not cover all situations. We recommend you contact the financial aid office of the school(s) you are interested in attending or visit FAFSA.ed.gov for more information. SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate does not offer federal student loans and this resource is not affiliated with the Department of Education.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of the US Department of Education. CSS Profile is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with and does not endorse SoFi.
The first step to applying for financial aid (grants, need-based scholarships, federal student loans, and work-study jobs) is filling out your FAFSA®. Some states and schools also require it for their grants, merit-based scholarships, and loans. We’re here to help make the application process easier with FAQs, resources, educational materials, and more.
What is the FAFSA?
Let’s start with the basics: FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and must be submitted every year a student hopes to receive federal financial aid. Many states and schools also require FAFSA information for their funding and scholarships.
The form is available online at fafsa.gov or via the myStudentAid mobile app (available for iOs in the App Store or for Android in Google Play .) You can also print out the application and mail it in. The form asks questions about the income and finances of the student (and spouse if married) and the student’s parents, plus questions about the student’s education plans. According to StudentAid.gov, it takes most people less than an hour to fill out the form.
For the upcoming academic year, you can submit the form as early as Oct. 1. Generally, the federal deadline is June 30 (before the academic year starts), but states and schools may have earlier deadlines. Also, you should keep in mind that funding that is limited is often first-come-first-served.
Want to learn more?
Here are some articles that go into more depth covering FAFSA basics:
Which student loans can you get?
Whether you’re about to start college or you’re going back for another degree, keeping the different loan types straight in your head is not easy. First, there are federal student loans (which include loans to parents) and private student loans (which are available to parents and students through a private lender and don’t require completing the FAFSA—more about that below).
Federal loans have caps and eligibility requirements, including financial need for certain loans. Private loans generally require a credit check, income requirements, and/or a cosigner.
Here’s a guide to the different types of federal student loans available.
Federal Student Loans
Direct Subsidized Loans
Direct Subsidized Loans are for undergraduate students who have financial need.
An additional source for education funding are private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Private student loans do not require a FAFSA application and are often used as a supplement to federal aid.
It can sometimes be difficult to determine which loan option will work best for you. These comparison articles may help you choose from federal, private, or both.
What are the eligibility criteria for federal student loans?
The basic requirements to receive federal student aid—including federal student loans — are set by law and are outlined below. For a deeper dive, check out our student loan requirements article.
To qualify for many federal student aid programs, you must demonstrate that you have a financial need. Your financial need is determined by calculating the difference between the cost of attending a school (COA) and your expected family contribution (EFC). Your COA will vary, of course, depending on the school, but your EFC will remain the same. A completed FAFSA is required to determine a student’s EFC.
You must be either a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen to apply for federal aid. Eligible non-citizens include U.S. nationals, U.S. permanent residents, or specific individuals with certain designations from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services. For more details, check out studentaid.gov’s definition of eligible non-citizen in their glossary.
It is required that applications possess a valid Social Security number. There are only exceptions for students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau.
Previously, most male students wishing to apply for federal student aid had to be registered with Selective Service. But with the passage of the FAFSA Simplification Act in late 2020 , this is no longer the case (having a drug-related conviction also no longer affects eligibility). That said, the FAFSA form for 2022-2023 may still have a question asking if males under age 26 want to register with the Selective Service.
To receive federal aid, students must either be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree or certificate program. You must be enrolled as a “regular student,” meaning you have been accepted at the institution in order to obtain a degree, certificate, or other recognized education credential offered. Students must also be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for Direct Loan Program funds.
Part of the FAFSA includes signing a certification statement. This states that you do not have any federal student loans in default and you do not owe money on a federal grant. Signing this statement certifies that you will use any federal student aid you receive for educational purposes only.
Students must prove that they are qualified to obtain a college education by showing they have a high school diploma, General Education Development (GED) certificate, completed high school education by a homeschool approved under state law, or are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program. Career pathway programs require that you also meet an “ability-to-benefit” alternative that you can learn more about here.
This is the date the FAFSA becomes available for the following school year. It is recommended that you fill out your FAFSA as close to October 1 as possible to give you a good chance to get access to available funds. Need-based aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis, so it is in your best interest to apply as soon as possible.
This is the deadline to submit the FAFSA for the school year to begin that fall.
Deadlines by State
Each state has its own deadline for submitting the FAFSA form, and some states award state-specific grants that will have their own deadlines for submission as well. To find the deadline for your state, check the official FAFSA website.
In addition to state deadlines, colleges may also have specific deadlines that vary by school. Check with the schools that you are interested in attending to ensure you submit your FAFSA on time.
Paying Back Student Loans
Once you have a student loan, how do you go about paying it back?
More Info on Financial Aid
When it comes to financial aid, we know there are a lot of topics to cover. Here are some additional resources that may make the process easier.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Sometimes the costs of college can exceed the amount of federal student aid you receive. That’s when you might consider a private student loan with SoFi. SoFi offers no-fee student loans with an easy application that can be done entirely online.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS, PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION. Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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